Coronavirus and the circle of life

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion Page, April 5, 2020

We may be in the midst of a global health crisis but the circle of life continues. An invisible foe, the coronavirus, is changing the way we begin life, live life, and end life.

Earlier this week my family grew by one. Spring flowers may be in full bloom before we are able to have a proper introduction to our newest grandchild, for we dare take no chances.

The hospital took no chances, either. Little Dax’s dad was screened for coronavirus before they were admitted to the hospital. Had he tested positive he would have been sent home. The thought of giving birth without her husband had rattled our daughter-in-law.

I’m longing to wrap my weathered fingers around Dax’s tiny, unfurling ones and tell him that, while he was born during a pandemic, everything will be OK.

But will it be?

We’re swimming upstream, like salmon in spawning season.

Unlike the salmon, whose future is inevitable, ours is uncertain.

Every news cycle underscores how massive and complex this pandemic truly is.

I have many questions but few answers.

Will my favorite businesses still be around when the “Stay At Home” order is lifted?

Is it safe to bring the mail into my home without wiping it off? What about my groceries?

We’re a free society, not of one mind when it comes to the cost/benefit analysis of social distancing or the government’s right to restrict individual movements for the greater good.

What are our obligations to our fellow citizens?

If we contract the virus, are we obliged to tell others?

If we disregard the “Stay At Home order,” what, if any, penalty should be imposed?

I’m trying to form a picture of life on the other side of the pandemic. I imagine an emotional cocktail composed of relief, joy, and wariness.

But how will we behave?

Will we pop champagne and race into the streets or will we slowly re-emerge from our homes, like scuba divers trying to avoid the bends?

Will we greet each other with handshakes, hugs or elbow bumps?

In the future, will politicians kiss babies or blow air kisses?

Will anyone willingly take the middle seat on an airplane?

In the meantime, it would serve us well to be patient and graceful, for we’re being stretched in ways we wouldn’t have imagined months ago.

Some parents are serving double duty as employees and homeschool teachers, while others are filing unemployment claims.

Will forced family time heal troubled relationships or add fuel to smoldering domestic fires?

How will parents tether teens who are accustomed to more friend time and less family time?

How can we maintain our mental health while honoring “Stay at Home” protocol?

I’m a social being living with two introverts, one of whom temporarily moved into our lower level.

I need face-to-face interaction with people, just as plants need oxygen to thrive.

Zoom Bingo with my grandkids, while fun, is a sterile substitute for the snuggles and giggles that ordinarily connect us.

I’ve ramped up my Facebook time and “how are you doing?” texts.

But I’m grieving.

I’m grieving the loss of the life I loved: tennis matches; date night; speaking engagements; and shopping without latex gloves.

But the things I long for are comparatively inconsequential when I consider the loss of life and livelihood, as well as big life moments that are evaporating or being postponed: commencements, senior prom, weddings, and family vacations.

Moreover, all facets of the circle of life are being disrupted.

The coronavirus is claiming lives and transforming the way we die. Some of the most wrenching news stories are about people spending their final days alone.

Today’s newspaper contains dozens of obituaries. How do we bid farewell to those who pass during a pandemic?

We can’t congregate in funeral homes, churches or homes to share hugs, memories, and tears. Though we’re wired to comfort one another during a time of loss, our traditions have been displaced.

I’ve heard about people using Zoom to sit shiva and watch a funeral service, cell phones to say final goodbyes, and about neighbors gathering outside a grieving family’s home to send their condolences through glass barriers. At this surreal moment in history, these stand-ins provide the only safe means to say goodbye.

How ironic that the form of communication credited with creating social distance is the go-to form of communication as we social distance.

Last Sunday was rainy and dreary. As I was brooding, the clouds cleared and the sun made a welcome appearance.

So did a bald eagle. It circled our yard before perching on a tree, its gaze focused on something in the distance.

Watching that magnificent bird, the symbol of our nation, reminded me that we, too, are strong, proud, and resilient.

These unprecedented times summon us to find our wings, to lift each other up when we falter or lose faith.

We have an unexpected gift of time, during which we can do all sorts of spring cleaning.

Regardless of how it now feels, we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

We will adapt, just as previous generations have, during enormously challenging times.

We can do this.

We must do this.

~~~If you enjoyed this piece and would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can sign up to receive her columns by email. You can also purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” filled with inspiration and insight on living the “better” choice, here. Need an inspirational speaker who offers actionable steps to living the “better” choice? Please reach out.