Antepandemian Days

Before the flood
There’s an old word, much beloved of the sort of 19th century poets and authors who took great delight in antiquated, obscure vocabulary, that has been much on my mind lately. The word is “antediluvian“. It refers to a time “before the flood” – it speaks to an ancient period both innocent and evil, of near mythical antiquity. HP Lovecraft was a huge fan of the word, and tossed it in like raisins to his descriptions:

All at once I came upon a place where the bed-rock rose stark through the sand and formed a low cliff; and here I saw with joy what seemed to promise further traces of the antediluvian people. – “>The Nameless City by HP Lovecraft

It is hard to know, right now and right here, just how much of an apocalypse this virus truly is. We have certainly, as humans, seen worse. When smallpox ran like a wildfire ahead of European explorers, it wiped out as much as 90% of those who had lived in the place I now call home. The Black Death killed millions. There is no doubt in my mind that we – humans – will be as triumphant long term over this stark moment as we have been over every other difficult and challenging time in our history. And there have been so many – more than even I know.

Still, it’s strange to be in that moment. It’s strange to have been a full adult in both the ante and the post of our pandemiun moment. I already felt like a part of a liminal generation. Born in 1978, I was one of the last to be trained on the prior generation of skills: typing on a typewriter, repairing a lawn mower engine, formatting a memo, writing a letter. I lived and loved in an era before the internet. But I also got my first computer at four, my first internet connection at sixteen, and one of my first jobs was digital. I have driven cross country before GPS, and can navigate with a map. I also love APIs and have written HTML for nearly as long as “markup languages” have existed.

And now I am at the full flower of my prime right at the moment where the world looks to reshape itself. There is a clear before, and there is a developing hereafter. The day of demarcation is bright in my mind. To me, the world pivoted as fast as it has ever done on March 12. I took a day that was intended to be Del’s funeral and spending it instead hiking in the White Mountains (a choice I think he would have fully approved of). When I left that morning, the stock market was strong, nothing was closed, and even our decision to cancel the funeral was just because it was being held in a “hot spot”. When we emerged off that mountain, self-consciously mindful of keeping our distance from other hikers, the stock market had the first of a historically awful series of days. My son had stayed home sick (with a bug he would share with me – still not sure if that was Coronavirus or not). And there would be no more days of school this winter. All employees in both my and my husband’s company were to work from home – indefinitely as it turns out. That drive home, we had pizza in a trattoria buried in the mountains and I noted it as an excellent find for later. Now I wonder if it will still be there when later comes.

As one of Generation X, I got to set my expectations for what the world was during the most boring decade in history: the 90s. (If you’re wondering, it definitely FELT like the most boring decade in history.) It was an era after war between nation-states had become irrelevant (or fast and bloodless, if required). Vice Presidentials scuppered promising careers with an inability to correctly spell root vegetables. We were all rudely corrected about how safe, how boring, how predictable the world was on September 11th, 2001 (the day the 90s truly ended).

Since that pizza coming off that hike, I’ve had this passage from Matthew (which I just read this winter) rolling through my mind, about that antediluvian era (although I know of no Biblical translation so obscure as to use the word itself):

As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. – Matthew 24:38-39

We have been swept away. Where we will land, on what shore and in what condition, I do not know. I do know that we will continue, and find new ways of being. We will create a postpandemiun society. And it depends on the choices we all make in these days and hours as to whether that society is a joyful one, or one built on fear. Hold on to hope, my friends. There will be a day – sooner than you can believe – where this is all a tale to tell children.

Abundance & Want

This strange time in the life of the world is giving all of us room, space and perspective to see the world through unfamiliar lenses. It’s remarkable what doesn’t change (not enough hours in the day!) and what is fundamentally shifted and may never come back the way it was (tbd). We are all spending way more time with some people, and way less time with others. Our habits are changed – die-hard grocery delivery shoppers like me can’t get a slot while others try it for the first time. Few of us are commuting, and the commute is changed for everyone. We are cooking more and eating more takeout, but it seems like a long time since we sat with friends in a bar, or a movie theater or… anywhere.

This time has also created different senses of lack or insufficiency. Many, many, many people are now encountering true want. Millions have been laid off. Many are in quarantine and struggling to make sure they have enough of the basics. But almost no one can find toilet paper in the stores. With just a small number of hoarders and a small increase in the amount we all picked up for our homes, our incredibly finely tuned system, designed to produce precisely the right amount of TP and not a roll more, is struggling to keep up.

When I was growing up, grocery shopping was a once a month thing. We’d get fill-in milk, eggs and bread, but my mom did one big shopping trip to the base (my father was military retired) about once a month or two. When we lived in Northern Idaho, it was like a 3 hour drive – each way. And that’s how we shopped: buy absolutely everything you might need as though you live in a logging town in the woods 20 miles from the nearest podunk grocery store with five aisles – and absolutely no restaurants. This never seemed particularly hard. By my parents standards, this was the height of accessible food!

6 months of supplies in Africa

This is my parent’s supply drop when they were in Africa. According to my sister this represents 6 months of food. The massive amount of soda here cracks me up – my parents made many sacrifices, but not the sodapop! Of course, this was supplemented with bananas from the garden, eggs, chicken and local foods – which were neither plentiful nor varied. (For the record, I’m the waif in the lower right.) The picture on the wall still hangs in my parents house.

Anyway, this is how I learned to shop, and this attitude remains true, even though we live a quarter of a mile from a (usually) well stocked grocery store. So we were well prepared for a 2 week “eat what you have” plan. But into our idyllic backlog of Costco whole wheat pasta, there came the voice of want. Here I was, watching the Great British Bakeshow with dreams of dinner rolls, pies, cakes and donuts dancing through my head. And Adam makes bread for our family every week – and usually a few loaves to share. But then we did a grocery store run – and there was no flour to be had. We checked the pantry – and the flour supplies were paltry. We looked online, and they’re scalping flour. Peapod was out. Amazon was delivery 25 pound bags only …. in mid April. Costco was out. Target was out.

We began to feel the scarcity. Ah! To be in a well stocked house with plenty of time for yeast breads… and no flour!!! Adam got particularly obsessed. He starting calling Stop and Shop every morning. He went on grocery runs which were ill-disguised flour runs. He got anxious. And then, finally, we found flour at the local teeny Target. Enough flour. We left with 25 pounds of flour (which was our desired amount). And somehow this anxiety we’d been experiencing, this sense of shortage, eased. We had enough. Adam says it was fascinating to watch his own mind, which had been dwelling on wondering what shortages we’ll experience, how our supply chain will hold up, what the uncertain future holds. But somehow, with enough flour laid by, he is more sanguine that this world will work out ok in the end.

This time we will be confronted with unusual and unexpected wants. We are short of toilet paper, socialization, and time alone. But there are also moments of plenty, if we look for them. Did we lay aside enough Coke to get us through six months, like my folks did? Is there an abundance where there is usually scarcity somewhere for you? Maybe a little more time? Maybe more connection with your family? More phone calls? More patiently watching out your window as spring takes over from winter? More yeast breads? Where are you abundantly filled?

Abundance

Seemingly months later…

A week ago today, I was commuting into work. I was irritated by it – it was already clear that this was going to be a problem and we shouldn’t be packing together on public transit to go into our 3 foot cubicles. But my work was still requiring folks to come in person. That seems like an altogether distant era – a time out of remembrance. But when I packed up that afternoon, in an increasingly quiet office, I took a long moment to look around. I work on the 25th floor with spectacular views from the heart of Boston. From one side, I can look up the Charles to the rising monuments of Kendall Square, and into New England’s soul as marked by the Citco sign. On the other side, punctuated by a steady stream of massive airliners, are the Harbor Islands and placid waters of Boston Harbor. The other two sides are mostly traffic, gazing down to the Blue Hills and up to the Fells.

The Harbor Islands view

I looked at my desk – my hundreds of colored pens, my pictures of my kids, my hilarious and ironic set of “awards” from my coworkers. And I wondered when I would see any of it again. It felt like goodbye. That night I learned the earliest likely date would be April 11th – almost a full month. We will see.

The world has radically changed in the week since that moment. Our kids are home from school. Public places are shuttered. Stores and restaurants are shifting how and when they serve various customers. Every ticket you have to every event is now a broken promise. Hiking trails are packed with people staying six feet apart. All of us are leaning on the internet as a critical lifeline to friends, family and a world outside the shrinking walls of our homes. And we know that for some, this catastrophe is truly catastrophic early. Not just for those who have fallen ill, or who will be soon. But for the economically precarious – suddenly laid off. For the abused trapped now with abusers who are themselves frightened, angry and lashing out. It can feel irresponsible to look for silver linings, especially when the path in front of us is dark and unknown.

But there are silver linings. I will never again get as much quality time with my family as I am getting now. For a month, I will be spending hours of focused, quality time with my teen and tween and husband every day. This was a gift that could not have been purchased in an era where teenage friends were waiting just there. (We also have a functionally infinite supply of board games, which is nice!) The flowering of creativity as people try to figure out how to do the things that are important to them in this era is a joy. I see online concerts, art activities, educational classes and free curriculums sprouting up all over the place. People are experimenting with hundreds of different ways of being together, apart. All of us are learning new tools and new techniques. How may of you have installed a new app, or tried new software, or interacted with something in a new way this last week? I have.

I’ve also seen people really reaching out and caring for others. Packages of chicken soup have been left on my porch. Offerings of errands from people have poured in. Texts and phone calls to see if I’m ok. Prayers. People are really, generally, pretty decent to each other. It’s just that the exceptions get the news coverage.

As we watch the forsythia bloom this strangest of springs, I have hope that we will become our best selves.


I am happy to report that my health is improving. I’m still not 100% (and I’m trying to take it easy), but I seem to be on the way up instead of the way down. Last night, I rested by binge-watching The Great British Bakeoff. I highly recommend this choice. Nothing like the bright colors, the high standards and low stakes, and the delicious looking baking you actually DO have time to attempt to emulate right now as an anodyne for the soul.

The kids are doing pretty well. Thane is dedicating nearly 100% of his learning time to German on DuoLingo. I’m avoiding pointing out that a binging strategy isn’t as effective in language learning. Grey is doing creative writing, and reading “The Stand”. I got some nice company from him when he read a section about a mom dying and then wanted to hang out with me, so that’s nice. We’re pretty glad we got a treadmill a few years ago for winter exercise, especially today which is rather crummy out. And I’m awfully glad to be working at a company doing something to help, even if I’m not on that particular project.

How are things with you?

The first Monday

It’s a bright sunny day here in New England, on this strangely askew morning. The usual stream of cars cutting through our street is stilled. Last night, we sat down with our boys to talk through how life would be in this new era, at least for now. We all need structure, sunlight, exercise, good food, and some sort of meaningful work in our lives to stay mentally healthy. Here’s what’s happening in our family.

8 am – everyone up (including mom)
10 pm – in bed, screens off (can read)

Before Noon: (minimum)
1/2 hour exercise
2 hours learning

Before 6 pm:
1 hr outside/daylight
1/2 hr exercise (1 hr. total)
1 hr. chores (or parent approval) – we set up lists on Google Keep for this
2 hrs learning (4 hrs total)

Here’s the list of things that count as learning for your inspiration!


Adam and I are working full days, of course. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with a pretty righteous cough. I keep checking to see if I also have shortness of breath. I have a very, very mildly elevated temperature (eg. 99.7). I called the office where I had a PCP, and she has left the office and they were deeply unhelpful “You need to pick a PCP.” “OK, who are my options?” “You can Google it online.” So I also don’t have a PCP. On the plus side, this is an opportunity for me to find a better practice. (They were also pretty unhelpful in non-pandemic times.) On the minus, there is still no testing.

I’m trying to focus on what people would need to know about my work, in case I worsen or need to stop working and, ya know, rest.

On the plus side, Thane is working on his German and Grey completed an essay this morning! Both are now exercising – bike riding and basketball playing! (Thump thump cough shoot).

Learning German on Duolingo

Belief

I have thought a lot about belief. This is an inevitable part about being both a Christian and a person who trusts science and the scientific method to be trustworthy and reliable ways to understand both ourselves and our universe. One of the key questions is – what depends on belief, and what is true outside my believing in it.

There are things that depend on our belief, or where what we (usually collectively) think makes the truth. The stock market is definitely this way. The economy, less so, but still reliant on “confidence”. In the recent democratic primaries, you could see how some candidates (namely Elizabeth Warren) did poorly because “everyone” who wanted to vote for her had heard that she couldn’t win. So they didn’t. So she didn’t. (Not to say that she would otherwise have had a majority, but it’s hard to tell.) Money is one of those things that actually relies 100% on belief. If all of us suddenly stopped thinking that those little slips of paper (or worse, the digital markers that represent slips of paper which don’t actually exist) weren’t worth anything – they wouldn’t be. This has happened before. Bitcoin, which is valuable because we think it is, is another excellent example of this.

Then there are those things which care not a whit for whether we believe in them or not. Gravity. Death. Spring. Pandemic viruses. Global climate change.

Finally, there are those things where we as people are unsure how much our beliefs matter. God is a big one there. Does God exist without our believing in an almighty? I believe in a God whose existence does not rely on my belief – by my belief does not make that truth. The truth of God is there whether I believe in God or not. Health is another. Our mindset and beliefs definitely matter to our health, but they are a piece, not the whole. Belief in a treatment (or lack thereof) may enhance or inhibit effectiveness, but it does not create it.

This gap between things that are entirely made up of belief (the stock market) and things which do not give a damn what we believe (viruses) is the great chasm we find ourselves in today – where we have people applying the practices of belief to the indomitable forces of truth, and shocked and dismayed (and disbelieving) to find those forces ineffective. It seems as though the practiced response of our leadership is to try to reshape reality by belief. That actually works, to some extent, on a capitalist market. It is deeply counterproductive to something like a pandemic, where action must follow belief, which must follow (instead of attempt to create) truth.

I believe we humans are in for a hard year. I believe we will face challenges which our ancestors faced before us, but for which we are greatly out of practice – it having been over a hundred years since the last global pandemic. I believe humanity itself will overcome this hard, difficult moment. I believe many of us will lose people we love in the process, or ourselves be lost. But the point, my friends, is that the virus is untouchable by my belief. The only thing about my belief – or lack thereof – that matters is how it shapes my actions. And so I will work and do those things which are difficult to bend the curve towards the well being of humanity and the survival of my fellows, as much as my small ability allows. And I believe that matters, very much.


Thane is doing much better today. His fever is gone, and his energy is back. (That’s a mixed blessing.) He’s still coughing, and has added phleghmy to his repertoire, which gives me hope that this is rhino, not coronavirus.

Adam: Bane of oriental bittersweet

Adam and I got some outside time doing one of those things that I daydream about having time to do. I walk or run the Greenway often, and see the trash on the sides and oriental bittersweet devouring trees and wish I had a trashbag and a pair of clippers. So today we went with a trashbag and a pair of clippers and launched a brief battle in what must clearly be a much longer war.

New art since yesterday

Tomorrow, we all start to figure out how to lead more balanced lives with work, some kind of education, exercise etc. in these new times.

Spring – which comes with or without our believing it