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  • Pamela S

Fear Knocks, Love Answers

Toilet paper aisle at Target, March 12, 2020

When I think back on the last six months, it seems that change and fear have been the only constants. New phrases are added to our daily narrative. Social distancing is the new normal to flatten the curve. There is a shift to less touching and less intimacy. We do not hug, shake hands, see expressions, or gather in groups. We over-squint to show a smile over our masks. Our conversations are six feet apart, or remote. Some external entity defines us as essential, or not.

I remember in early March, sitting with a dear friend having breakfast at a restaurant--all we could talk about was the current news. The undercurrent of our nervousness was softened as we laughed about toilet paper. It was not called a pandemic at the time, but people were preparing for the worst.

"Do you think things will actually shut down?" I asked my friend.

"Who knows? Nobody knows what is going to happen," she trailed off, as we were unable to steer our conversation away from anything but speculation about an uncertain future. We agreed it was all so surreal.

Trader Joe's checkout, March 13, 2020

We admitted to each other to what extent we were stocking up for our family, which was not extreme in either case. Each of the four adults in my house took a turn at bringing home a subtle grocery run. Nobody wanted to overreact, but neither did we want to be caught foolish. I'm not sure how those jars of peaches helped the situation, except to offer some sense of control in a situation that felt anything but.

Starbucks, March 16, 2020

The first true fear I felt was walking into Starbucks, struck by everything stacked in the corner. Even Starbucks was impacted? But this is America! I felt the tangible fear of the gloved barista as well, and I just wanted to pay for my tea and run. What was this new reality?

It seemed that the changes were slowly unfurled, as if carefully orchestrated, but one could justify that it was done to avoid all-out panic. Each week brought a new restriction, giving us just enough time to marginally acclimate to the previous one. I remember thinking that we would never wear masks in America the way they did in Asia. Not here, no way. Now I have a favorite mask, and I rarely bother wearing blush. And the phrase "walk of shame" is redefined as going back to your car to retrieve your forgotten mask, hoping no one gives your empty face a disapproving look on the way.

I remember in 1999, as Y2K loomed, we were all afraid. My husband and I felt justifiably concerned because we were both software engineers, working for over a year to fix date issues in our respective bubbles of cyberspace. The existence of the two-digit date (with a hard-coded "19") was probably the most profound lack of foresight in technological history. Without being fixed, all these dates on New Year's Day would change to "00" which functionally translated to "1900." Since all the computers across the world were expected to travel to the past at the same moment, it was time to hoard food and buy a generator. We were ready on New Year's Eve, with our garage stocked, and the shiny generator still in its box. But then nothing happened. Life returned to normal, and we eventually sold the generator.

This situation is markedly different, because there is no set end date. I remember in late March when my hairdresser said she heard we were going to be shut down for eight weeks. That was a shock to me. There was no way, I said. It was not much later that I realized how fortunate I was to have that appointment when I did. Eight weeks later, I would have said that I missed Mass the most, followed closely by my hairdresser.

During this time, I knew one thing for sure. I did not want my family impacted by this dreaded disease. I wanted to form a cocoon around us, sheltering us from the world. If we just stayed away from everyone until this was all over, we would be safe. Our cocoon began to unravel when our son decided to stay with his girlfriend's family for awhile. We told him that if he left, we were not sure if we were going to let him come back home. When he was furloughed from his job, he ended up leaving for three weeks, taking my heart with him. He's a grown man and can do as he chooses, but it didn't make it any easier. As we worried for him those three weeks, we came to the decision that our son was more important than our fear. So we welcomed him back.

Recently, a beloved and very involved parishioner passed away after an illness that she fought valiantly for several years. Her husband all but disappeared from his many parish duties during this time, devoted as he was to her care, and wanting to cherish every moment he had left with his wife of almost 50 years. This kind man showed up at outdoor Mass two days after his wife died, in a mask and holding a large picture of his beloved in front of him. We all greeted him warmly with our eyes smiling, and I opened my arms and said, "Oh, I wish I could hug you!" He took the invitation literally, and pulled me into a long hug and held on tight. I hugged him right back just as tightly for a good long time. I heard him say something about the doctor saying it was okay for him to hug as long as he turned away, but I didn't care about that. I was holding onto a man who was both grieving for his beautiful wife, and at peace with her being in her heavenly home and out of pain. Love won out.

Prayer during Pandemic

O clement, O loving, O sweet Mother Mary,

We, your children of every nation,

Turn to you in this pandemic.

Our troubles are numerous; our fears are great.

Grant that we might deposit them at your feet,

Take refuge in your Immaculate Heart,

And obtain peace, healing, rescue,

And timely help in all our needs.

You are our Mother.

Pray for us to your Son.


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Nov 15, 2020

What a beautiful reflection! The photographs provide a visual reminder of our current reality. My trips to the store are very limited nowadays, but I still find it very strange to see everyone wearing a facemask when I go. I smiled when you mentioned the "walk of shame" since I often have to walk back to my car to get my facemask. I appreciate the ending; it provides hope amidst the uncertainty.

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