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A Moment for Reflection

FFF(c) Day! Freedom From Fear (coronavirus)

Scenes from World War I were playing on my screen recently. Soldiers were huddled in the trenches, with incoming artillery shells, mortar rounds and sniper fire. It was a constant battle just to remove the dead and injured from the live fire while shrapnel, mud, and debris rained all around them. Everyone wondered if they’d actually make it home alive, not to mention arrive physically unscathed. Unfortunately, many of those who arrived with bodies intact turned out to have “shell shock”, or what we now term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

It is estimated that 40 million people died worldwide in that war; so far, “only” about 2 million people have died from the quiet war of coronavirus. Without the explosions and bloody deaths as stark reminders of this war, many people saw little or no risk, and pretty much continued their lives as they had before they had to wear a mask to get their groceries. But for some of us – those with compromised immune systems or other pre-existing conditions – this felt like an invisible war that was being raged right next to us, and we retreated to our foxholes, shelters we shared with only those who lived in our homes. Anyone else could be an undercover agent carrying Covid-19; trust no one, no matter how much you love or miss them. It was a fast, brutal and stark reordering of priorities. 

Every trip outside the home became an exercise in warfare and spycraft. Need to fill the gas tank? Find a deserted pump island. Oh no, here comes someone! Do they have a mask? Which way is the wind blowing? How close are they going to get? Want to take a walk and get some exercise? Oops, not there, look at all the cars in the parking lot. How many people are on that trail? Nope, let’s find a deserted neighborhood. Groceries? Order online, drive to the store, open the back hatch, put on a mask. What? Why are they trying to approach my window, I stated NO CONTACT! Get the groceries home, wipe down everything with disinfecting wipes, then wipe down the counter. 

Order surgical masks, cloth masks, vented masks (oops, can’t wear that; glasses won’t fog, but my outgoing breath isn’t filtered, and that’s not cool). Order more masks. Get filters for masks. Order surgical gloves. Get an air purifier for household air (seemed like a good idea at the time, will come in handy during smoke season). Search and search for hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray and wipes. Order more masks, maybe these will work better. Take a chance and meet at a “social distance” with friends outdoors. On the way home, discuss whether I got closer than 6 – 10’ during the visit, and if so, how great was the risk of exposure.

One day – March 367th – get in line, and spend nearly two hours way too close to strangers, and get a shot in the arm that may be a first step in getting invisible body armor against this invisible assassin. Three weeks later, go back – where is everybody? – and get the second shot. Tomorrow, March 381st, marks FFF(c) day. We’ve been sent home from the front with a fully functioning body! But. We felt the tiniest shadow of what PTSD might feel like.

Long discussions. What can we REALLY do now? Who can we see safely? What does that look like? What does the CDC say? Hmm, lots of data there, and not a little confusing. Are they saying that to keep us safe, or the people we are with? What does 95% effective mean? Wait, now it’s “only” 90%? What about the variants, are we safe there? I feel like maybe a person emerging from a storm shelter after a tornado has just passed by, wondering if it’s safe to come out. Or maybe like a turtle who retreated to his shell because of an apparent threat, blinking his eyes, and slowly extending his head to take a look around. It’s going to take some time to stop examining every action outside of the cocoon we have built around our home. 

Grass “Pondering” its reflection

We went a little crazy yesterday. We went to Costco … during the Senior Citizen hours to avoid crowds. We actually went a couple of months ago, double-masked, with our tight little list, only getting exactly what we needed, not going down any aisle with another person in it, and rushing out as soon as possible. This time – okay, still double masked – we go up and down dearly every aisle in the store. And yes, we found a few things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them. 

We raced home (I was going to say zoomed, but that word has been co-opted by a now-ubiquitous app), put the groceries away, put on our hiking clothes, and headed out to Whistle Lake to hike a real trail! We took our masks, but only masked up if we saw others who were wearing a mask. It felt so good to not have to find a spot on the trail where we could be six feet or more off the trail, and not struggling to quickly put our masks on before they got too close. We even had two 5 minute friendships, the first in over a year! 

On the deck at Anthony’s

And then (drum roll), Terri suggested we head in to Anacortes, and maybe find a restaurant with an outdoor patio where we could have a glass of wine. And we did! Anthony’s had two patios open, and the one in the sun didn’t even have anyone else on it. We ordered one of our favorite appetizers, Calamari, and a glass of wine, and marveled at where we were, and what we were doing. 

Our guard is still up a bit. Still leery about being too close to unvaccinated people, dining inside a restaurant, and returning to in-person church services, to name a few. But now there is sooo much more we can do than we’ve able for the past year, it’s almost intoxicating. We’ve missed so very much this last year, and we ache to see our kids, grandkids and friends, but we survived. American could end up with three-quarters of a million dead before there is a near-zero risk of contracting covid, and our hearts break for those who have lost family and friends, and for those whose bodies will never fully recover from this disease. Yes, we took extreme measures; now all those sacrifices will begin to pay off as we reintegrate with society. The storm clouds are clearing, and we emerge, ready to build again.

This fish literally jumped out of the water onto the bank while we were eating lunch. We felt a bit like a fish out of water ourselves on FFF(c) day. I flipped him back in the water – he stared at me for a moment, then swam away.

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Today Is Tomorrow

And the next day, and the next, and the next…

It was 315 days ago we started what we termed “Extreme Social Distancing.” No shopping, grocery or otherwise, no church, no friends over for meals, no trips to see grandkids, avoiding like the plague anyplace where we might come within 6’ of another human being. Laughably, my blog post on March 12 – that fateful first day – wonders if this new life will last six to 12 weeks. Ten months later, with a strangled vaccination roll-out and new, easier to catch, maybe more deadly coronavirus variants popping up like mushrooms after a fall rain, we are being told it could be another ten months before we can feel somewhat safe in the company of anyone other than those living in our house; yep, just Terri and I.

Mount Baker at eventide from Cap Sante, Anacortes, WA

We do all our grocery shopping online, roll up to Fred Meyer, the back of our rig is opened, bags deposited, the door closed, and off we go. That will typically be the highlight of that day. If the weather isn’t horrible, we have a couple of choices; drive to Anacortes, where we walk in a ritzy neighborhood with views of the Salish Sea where we are the only walkers on the sidewalks. Head to Little Mountain Park, where one of the many trails has few, if any hikers, or out to LaConner. We drive to the very end of the marina area, walk the sidewalks along the shoreline until we get to the cute, touristy town with closed shops and empty sidewalks. 

Once in a while we will head to Whidbey Island during the week and find a deserted beach to walk, or sit with a meager lunch and ponder the timelessness of the wind and waves. Or we may try and find a backroad in our tri-county area we haven’t been on yet, running out of options there.

As we were nearly home driving back from one of our micro-excursions, we looked at each other, and I asked Terri “What do you want to do tomorrow?” And we both laughed. “Today IS Tomorrow” we said. Our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows are becoming indistinguishable from each other. There are no sharp calendar edges on our months, only the slow shape-shifting of seasons. 

Occasionally punctuation marks seem to appear out of nowhere. Friends moving away, a few very social-distance encounters with a couple friends and family. A short road trip to a condo where we will continue the extreme social distancing, but with a view other than our four walls for a few days. News of hard times for family members, reports of illnesses and death of friends family members. Astoundingly disturbing news from the other Washington. They all come in fast, hit hard, and dissipate like morning fog. 

Maybe like you, I want to live a life with meaning. The visceral knowledge that we are like the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire singes my days. Days like dry tinder, flashing into flame, but with no wood to make a meaningful fire. Incense carrying my prayers that I may play my part in the plan, to make at least a bit of a difference in a world crying for justice and mercy. 

So I scratch and peck, send a text here, make a call there, write a letter to the ethereous internet, jump on a Zoom with anyone willing to share time with us, or join a meeting where they have to let me in. A flash in the pan, a speck of gold dust, reminding me of the richness of relationships now reduced to electrons on a screen, and a yearning in the heart. 

The light of my life!

Hold on, we just have to hold on. Hold on to what we have, to the munificent blessings a mere glance reveals. Hold on to the investment of time spent in extreme social distancing that has kept us safe so far. Hold on to the lottery-like promise of a vaccine that could maybe possibly hopefully who knows begin an emergence into a new normal. If you have met me in person, you know I am a hugger. Know now that my hugs will be a bit tighter, a bit longer the next time we meet. Know that my tears will probably flow when I see you in person. Know that my heart aches and yearns for that time to come soon. I have hope. I am clinging to a hope for a better, brighter day for you and me on this glorious world. And, speaking for myself, one way or the other, I am confident and cling to the hope I have in the next world. 

May there be Peace, and let it begin with me.

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I Am Leery…

Not Timothy Leary, He’s Dead. (With apologies to the Moody Blues)

Occasionally I get an opportunity to fill out surveys. I got an easy one the other day – it asked me how many miles I had driven in a 24 hour period, starting at 3:00AM the previous day. That was easy; I just put a zero in every box. In fact, due to the steady rains setting in and other factors, I haven’t left the house except to pick up our mail in four days. 

View from Little Mountain

It did get me to thinking, though, about how constrained our activities have become. Basically we get out to pick up groceries that someone else has picked out for us from the list we send them; we get out to do nearby hikes or walks, and occasionally we get out to just to drive around, and see if we can find a road we’ve not been down before. We are pretty leery of doing much else, especially now that the numbers of coronavirus are increasing exponentially all around us. 

Like many others, we were super excited to hear about the efficacy of the vaccines that are in the pipeline. We can finally start to dream about doing more, and expanding our horizons! Visiting grandkids, friends and family, shopping (especially at Costco), movies, dining out, wine tasting, returning to our favorite places, travel – oh my! We can’t wait for the vaccine … but we have to. We are optimistically thinking that we may be inoculated by April. But then Mr. Leery started knocking. 

First of all, 95% effective sounds pretty great, especially when the flu vaccine is generally about 60%. But if you had a 5% chance of winning a $1million lottery, you’d buy a ticket every day, and might win twice a year. The good news is that I’m guessing we will be in the first 30% of people that get the vaccine, so that’s good! On the other hand, it’s projected that 50% of the population won’t get a vaccine, so that means even though we may have a high level of protection this spring, 70% of America will still be getting infected, and trying to infect us. 

We’d love to go to a movie, but there we are, cooped up in a room filled with strangers, and always – ALWAYS – someone coughing their lungs out, floating their aerosolized pathogens while they eat their popcorn and drink their Coke. I’m pretty leery about that. 

And, Oh! How we miss dining out and Happy Hour! Oh, but wait – there we are again, in a room of strangers having unprotected gastronomy, blissfully sharing their exhalations of joy with us. Yeah, maybe not.  (Korean Study: Infected after 5 minutes from 20 feet away)

We are hoping to fly to Texas to see friends there. Yeah, “they” say flying is safe, but we’ve all seen videos of passengers who refuse to mask up, and they are serving food again on flights, so everyone’s mask will be off in that cramped aluminum coffin hurtling through space for hours and hours. That pretty much takes leery to the limit.

So, our joy at the great news of the vaccines has been tempered a bit by a healthy dose of reality. When will we be leery-less? Maybe when everyone who wants a vaccine has had both shots, even though the rest of the nation will still be playing hot potato with Covid-19. Maybe when they stop reporting hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus, and mass shootings become the story of the day again. In the meantime, we’ll do what we can with what we have. Words with Friends, anyone? Or online Hearts while Zooming? Or…