I think somewhere around the end of October, my husband and I ran out of things to say. Sitting across the dinner table from each other over plates of Costco soup and a homemade Greek salad with wimpy lettuce, our eyes met and . . . that was it. Our eyes met. At breakfast we had already covered news about the grandkids and news from the news. We have a rule about no TV during meals, so we ate in companionable silence, which felt both OK and a little sad.
When you’re out and about, seeing friends, going to an office, getting your hair cut or your car serviced or planning a weekend away or going to weddings and funerals, there is an ongoing narrative to your days. Normal life is grist for the conversation mill. But these days we’re not cutting our hair or mingling or going shopping.
We walk our dog, but don’t stop to chat with the neighborhood dog friends out for a stroll. Conversation requires material, and our material is growing thin: “Did you speak to the kids?” “Do you want pepperoni or mushrooms?” “Did you sign the health care proxy?”
We have lost more, too. Underpinning our lives is the sense that things will work out OK. We have believed in ourselves, that we can work through problems and survive life’s challenges and even tragedies. But the pandemic has eroded some of that confidence in ourselves and in the future. We wobble a bit from time to time.
After 52 years of marriage, after decades of living in one community and creating friendships that form the fabric of our lives, that fabric is fraying, as friends are lost. At our age, we expect that people will get sick and some will die, but during a pandemic there is no satisfying way to grieve as a community of friends. Three dearest friends died since we began isolating ourselves, and we didn’t get to see them within weeks or months of their passing. We said what we could in messages and emails and photos, but one hug would have obviated the need for words.
My grandkids, ages 10 to 17, are spinning in their own galaxies of online school and virtual reality and friend bubbles and much too much downtime and isolation. No one can give them back this year, and while they have learned patience and resilience, I wouldn’t suggest global pandemics to teach character building. I miss them. I find I work hard to catch their attention with not-too-annoying texts and offers with homework and pitches for group activities and games. They’re a tough sell, and nothing virtual compares to seeing them face to face.
It is important, I think, to be honest with ourselves and authentic with our kids and grandkids, not just cheerleaders for pandemic silver linings.
I will say, however, that much has been found during this time. Reference the same patience and resilience, which all of us have had to summon. “New York tough” resonates these days.
I am more disciplined about getting out and exercising, between clouds and raindrops, whenever I find a patch of blue. Just about every day, I move, somehow and somewhere, just to change the scenery and push away unwelcome thoughts.
I keep close with friends nearby and far away, giving more time to more expansive emails and the sharing of photos and memories. It helps. All these threads weave the fabric tighter.
I have started crafting books. What an incredibly satisfying thing it is to begin by folding papers and adding photographs and snippets of poetry and passages from old letters and collaging together something meaningful in an original book. It absorbs my free time, of which I have a lot. I appreciate the luxury of time to do art.
What I also place in the “found” column is the challenge of baking complex desserts, like the cranberry lemon bars I made from a New York Times recipe. Every part, from the fresh cranberry puree to the lemon curd to the crust, had to be prepared separately and then composed. Now I have 24 bars in the freezer. Since I eat them only occasionally, they should last me until we get the vaccine.
If you’re reading this, and since I am writing it, we are still here, and still riding this crazy wave. As a new year approaches, even as we grieve for what has been lost, it feels exhilarating to watch the first people getting vaccinated, offering us all the promise of a healthy 2021.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.