When the bug first arrived. We were sleeping. At least most of us were. Like a stupor at the beach watching in amazement a beautiful setting sun, enjoying our lives in fullness. Lord knows after surviving a series of wildfires. Why not relax on the beach of our lives and let the sun soak in.
I had just returned from a trip along the coast attending one of the state’s last public hearings with hundreds in attendance. The term “social distancing” was about 3 days away from being born. Turned out the Chair of the Coastal Commission contracted the virus. I happened to have spoken with him the very night before he abruptly left town feeling sick. Two days later hearing the news, I and others who were at the Commission hearing were all self-quarantined for 2 weeks.
Stuck at home I watched the trees take on leaves. Typically, our Maple tree spreads its new leaves by late March and spring is well on its way – this year the only thing well on its way was a vicious virus that was slowing turning lives upside down. Something was a mis and it wasn’t just toilet paper off the shelves.
When I was a kid, I remember trusting my parents and civil leaders so much. I had been a cub scout and later a boy scout, so this was somewhat bred into my nature. But there was one instance that rattled me to the bone and woke me up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, grownups cannot always be trusted to do the right thing.
It was in the fall; I was dropped off at our local movie theater in downtown Willow Glen. The Garden Theater. I had under my care my younger sister and brother. I was may be 8 or 9 at the time. My parents loved to play cards with their friends and party. I’m sure sending us off to theater was their way of getting us out of their hair for a few hours. But that night I think they forgot us. At least I believed that as I stood outside the theater shaking from the cold and holding the hands of my younger siblings who were counting on me to make the connection back to base camp, our crib on Pine Ave.
Cell phones were not even an idea yet. So, calling or texting was not possible. There were phone booths, but I was not quite tall enough to reach the dial, let alone the phone. Still we waited dutifully. Dad would show up. Right? They would not leave us here forever, would they? Where would we sleep, what would we eat?
Time is different when you are young. Waiting ten minutes, let alone 30, or even an hour can feel like a dissolving eternity. I imagined the worst. We would be kidnapped, and it would be my fault. Or, someone would wet their pants and it would be my fault. I tried to reassure the younger ones. He’s coming I said. Just be cool, he’s coming… and of course eventually he did. But by then, however long it may have been. The damage was done – for me it would be represented by the eternity that had possessed me. And I would not be so trusting of adults again. Ever!
During the last six weeks I know I have traveled more miles on my bike than on my car.
And like others, I have watched more distressing press conferences than I dare recall; I watched Contagion, Tiger King, Ozark, Homeland; and have been on dozens and dozens of Zoom, GoToMeetings, Microsoft meetings and conference calls.
Besides feeling helpless to fix this mess we are in, is the shocking sense of ineptitude of our world. Where are the parents? When are they gonna pick us up? That dreadful feeling again… Are they coming at all? Is there no cure? Will there be a vaccine? When? And will there be enough for me, my family, …my siblings?
How did we let this get out of control?
Usually if you have a flat tire on your bike you could fix it yourself. As a species I think we like to be self-sufficient – as much as possible. But when you cannot reach the phone, or you can’t develop a cure yourself. You do feel helpless and are definitely dependent on others. How many more will be getting really sick… how many will die?
Fortunately, after several weeks of being on a ventilator and losing 27 pounds, the Chair
of the Coastal Commission survived. My colleagues and I who attended his hearing did not become sick either. Instead, at home we watched movies, we ate well, we found toilet paper, we restarted our garden, we read books, we painted rooms, we painted signs, we painted period. We were lucky to have my daughter, Julia and her boyfriend, Eric, stay with us.
They preferred to be up here during the “Shelter in Place” than the City. We were all fortunate to have work to do. They cooked for us, went to the store, they made us laugh and taught us how to do crazy exercises and to dance like gleeful infants.
May is like a new door opening gradually. My mother’s birthday was yesterday, I think she would have been pleased with us toughing it out and making the best of things. She always felt we were too sensitive. Now we try to be brave in the face of uncertainty.
Last week we ventured into the city wearing masks and gloves to help Julia and Eric move back and to celebrate Jenna’s birthday. It was like a major adventure, seeing so many people on a beautiful spring day in the City, physically distancing, most wearing creative masks. We did a birthday car parade down a narrow one way street and surprised the neighborhood as well as Jenna.
The people who lived there embraced us and made us feel very welcome. We didn’t even know them. I think everyone appreciated just a moment of celebration. Although weary, I know I did.