A New Normal

It’s a strange new world.

On Sunday afternoon I ventured out to my favorite grocery store. Normally, this would be a fairly routine experience, consisting of a grocery list and reusable bags. But “normal” went out the window about three weeks ago.

This trip felt more like an excursion to a foreign — and hostile — land. I had to decide what to carry with me, what to touch (and not touch), and how to disinfect myself and my purchases once I was safely home. Since our supply of nitrile gloves is running low, I left without them.  And I don’t own a mask. So the plan was to sanitize my cart, keep a safe distance at all times, only touch the merchandise I intended to buy, and get out as quickly as possible. I stuck to that plan, and managed to find almost everything on my list. Thankfully, TP was not on it. (Note: this photo was taken two weeks ago, when Scott brand was still considered a last resort.)

Ironically, “Under Pressure” was playing over the sound system as I made my way to the checkout. (Who selects these grocery store playlists?) I had to remind myself it was Sunday. There were no lines at all, giving cashiers time to sanitize the conveyor belts between customers. I think I was in and out in about 30 minutes . . . no small feat for Wegman’s, no matter when you shop.

Have you seen the YouTube video yet instructing us how to safely unpack and sanitize groceries and take-out meals at home? Again, that was my intention, but not exactly what happened. I was more concerned with the milk spoiling than viral contamination. I did, however, put all the bags on the kitchen floor as I unpacked them, and wiped the contents with disinfectant wipes before putting them away. And I washed my produce. Then washed the kitchen floor.

By the time everything was put away, I completely exhausted from what used to be an everyday task. The rain finally stopped and the sun was shining brightly.  By all appearances, it should have been a typical early spring Sunday afternoon. Kids should have been out playing with their friends. Neighbors should have been chatting together on the front porch. But kids aren’t outside unless they are in their own yards. And neighbors are keeping a wary distance, offering only a wave from the safety of their driveways. More notably, our busy DC suburb is devoid of nearly all traffic. The roads are quiet, as is Dulles Airport, which is literally 10 miles from our home. On a normal Sunday, a jet would be flying over our house ever few minutes. The silence is eerily reminiscent of 9/11 when all air traffic ceased.

This is the new normal.

It’s as though someone hit the Pause button on life. Everything has slowed down to nearly a halt; everyone is hunkered down waiting to hear the “all clear” call to resume their lives. The most difficult part for me has been missing my mother and brother, and also my church family.

But amidst all this chaos and the heart-wrenching stories of lives cut short by COVID-19, there are also truly amazing things happening all around us. There are stories of strength, generosity, and human resilience.

Until two weeks ago, no one had ever heard the phrase “social distancing”. Now it’s the law of the land. Schools and churches have closed, businesses are shuttered, and vacations have been cancelled. Loved ones have been separated by an invisible enemy, and are not sure when they will be able to hold each other again. Yet from this situation, parents — now working from home — have suddenly become teachers; restaurant and store managers have adapted to take-out and meal delivery options to stay afloat. Churches have begun live streaming or recording their church services, opening their virtual doors to the entire world. With the help of the internet, the human race has discovered unique ways to stay in touch and share the love while observing a 6-foot boundary.

Social network sites, usually an endless source of snark and satire, have now become a launchpad for creative ideas to keep both kids and adults entertained while sheltering at home. (My personal favorite is the Teddy Bear Hunt, catching on ’round the world.)

Battle Lines

Those fighting this disease, from hospital ER’s to research laboratories, are nothing short of heroes. They are on the front lines every day, battling a virus that doesn’t play by the rules. I hope they know how many people are cheering them on, praying for them, and scrambling to help find needed supplies.

As so many have reminded us, this is only temporary. But it will last longer than any of us want it to, and will end only when it is safe to resume our daily lives.

Normal, when it returns, will be very different. We have all been touched by this illness in some way. My hope is that we will one day soon emerge from our homes and realize that we need one another. We cannot fight these battles alone, and we are stronger together than we are apart.

Fathers and Others

It’s been an eventful weekend for me.

I spent the last three days caring for my brother as he recovers from surgery — or at least that was the plan. He ended up spending a bit longer in the hospital than expected, so my care-giving was redefined. While he was under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses, I cared for his home.

Cleaning House

My brother lives out in the country, about 40 miles away from us. So after I packed my bag, I did what any loving sister would do: I took a trip to Trader Joe’s! I bought some of our favorite snacks and some ingredients to prepare a few healthy meals for him. But when his hospital visit was extended, I decided to stay and enjoy this time alone as a bit of respite for myself.

Yesterday I cleaned his house from top to bottom, and even rearranged his living room to make better use of his space. (With his permission, of course.) In between vacuuming and dusting, I took frequent breaks to sit outside on the patio, swinging on the swing and listening to the birds. It was so peaceful!

In reality, my mind and body both benefitted from the cleaning. And the house looks pretty good too.

Stepping Into the Gap

We lost our father while we were both in our 20’s. It was a horrible blow, especially to Mom. But we clung together for support, and leaned on each other for strength over the years. My brother has been by our mother’s side for over 33 years, stepping in and taking care of what needed to be done. This was especially important when I moved to Virginia.

In so many ways, he took on my dad’s role. He helped with household repairs, financial decisions, and simple day-to-day tasks. And he never complained. Not once. And decades later, he packed up all their belongings and moved Mom closer to us so we could continue to support one another as her health declined.

While my brother is not a father himself, he became father-like in his role. I can never thank him enough. And if our mom had her memory back again, even for one brief moment, I know she would thank him too.

God blessed me with an earthly father, and I miss him so much today. But He also blessed me with a caring big brother to watch over our family when Dad was called home to heaven. Today I am grateful for both.

Happy Father’s Day!