Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Fear and Comedy

Toilet paper rolls in the hall used as buffers against the rolling ping pong ball that is coming down the pike, aimed at the dominoes set up to fall. Toilet paper?! They are using toilet paper?!?! But I don’t get mad, because they are playing and laughing and together and happy for now, when what they really want is to be outside, or with friends. (And because these will be their rolls when they’re done.)

This is who we are now. “Five, four, three, two, one!” comes the countdown, and the ping pong ball comes sliding down the tape-measure-slide from the top of the stairs, and bouncing just shy of the dominoes again. “Nooo! Okay, Five, four, three, two, one.” Again. We’ve got nothing but time to get this right.

Is this for real? Are we doing this? I have to ask myself every time I remember why we are here.

I’m in the other room doing a yoga video on YouTube, Yoga with Adrienne. It’s only my second time doing this. She’s outside by a lake, and I’m on a mat in the living room, taking advantage of the dogs being out on a walk and not licking my face when I’m in downward dog, and I’m breathing, trying to breathe, trying to stretch and feel.

And trying not to feel — anxious and cooped up. Trying not to feel afraid. Also trying to feel afraid enough, because nothing looks different and yet we have to act as though everything is different.

I thought I had coronavirus the other day. I sneezed twice in the morning, and felt tired enough to stay home from the trip to the airport to pick up Aaron from college. “Better play it safe,” Christopher agreed. Be cautious, heed the advice, “if you’re not sure, stay home, stay home, stay home.” In bed in my bathrobe, under the blankets, maybe feeling a tad warm, but maybe that was from the blankets and the bathrobe?  I coughed twice, and it was dry, and my worry deepened, but I applauded my decision to stay in bed. Aaron came home, and I heard his voice, “DOGGIES!” call out like a little boy, heard the dogs scramble to the front door, their nails sliding on the wood floors. This was the longest he’d ever been away from home, two months. Longer than the fall quarter, with its Parents Weekend and Thanksgiving break. I was afraid to hug him. Afraid that if I was sick, I would give it to him. I did not hug my son who came home from college. “Let’s just wait until tomorrow,” I said, “I’m sorry. I want to see if I’m sick. I don’t know.”

I don’t know. No one knows anything. “Asymptomatic” is our new vocabulary word – maybe you’re walking around with this disease, and maybe you’re not. Will I kill my parents just by looking at them?

The next morning, I woke up. Still alive, not sneezing, not coughing. I went downstairs in my warm bathrobe. The coffee was made and I poured myself a mug, thought about wiping down the carafe afterward, just in case. Aaron came downstairs in his pajama pants and a sweatshirt that said Humble. I smiled at him, said “I don’t have coronavirus,” and I wrapped my arms around his waist. He let me squeeze him tight. I squeezed the air right out of him.

The kids have taken a break from the dominoes project, and we all tiptoe around it in the hall. Even the dogs haven’t knocked it down. As I write, I can hear the voices of my family doing their activities. Maria is on her computer, saying “Wow” to one of her pre-school students. Emmett has his earbuds in, talking to a friend between online classes. Aaron is making the best of his Spring break, toggling between group chats with his college friends and an online game against his best friend, who is also locked in only a couple of miles away.

I feel sad for the kids with milestone years, the seniors in high school and in college — the athletes not getting to play their last seasons, the actors not getting to do their last musicals. In this stage of my life there is less loss. I work from home, I get to have the company of my kids, who are old enough to handle online school on their own (so feeling for this mom). I worry more than normal, but not more than the new normal.

Nothing is normal now. Maybe we’ll all become new people when this is done. Maybe my dad will take up skydiving. Maybe my mom will learn to knit. Maybe I will shave my head. I scoffed when I first read that Spain let the hair salons stay open, but now I get it. I see the grays increasing, not just roots, but everywhere, exponential, like the virus.

My parents ask who will drive the other crazy first. “Help, she’s keeping me hostage” my dad jokes, “call the police.” It takes us all a long time to compute that stay home means stay home. I hadn’t realized what pack animals we humans are. The sheer volume of things to cancel! Not just sports and concerts, but the meetings, the book clubs, the writing groups, the dance classes and walks and drinks and goings for coffee, the shiva. Our Cantor FaceTimes us to say Kaddish, and even in that setting, we cry.

We did Torah study online today. All of us, mostly older folks, figured out how to use computers to hear and see each other and our Rabbi. And what was today’s parshah about? Building sacred community, by bringing forth gifts from the heart. Exactly what we are figuring out to do now. Artists and musicians and dancers and yoga instructors and regular people giving from their hearts, posting music and jokes and even lunch with their baby. My friend Mary said it in my favorite way so far, and so I’ll leave you with this:

Nature is not canceled. Laughter is not canceled. Singing is not canceled. Writing is not canceled. Relationships are not canceled.

This happened yesterday.

I add to that, building dominoes is not canceled. Fighting with your brother and wrestling and calling him “dumb@%%” is not canceled.

And dancing is not canceled. Virtual dance party anyone? Let me know. I’ll send the invitations. Black tie quite optional.

With love,


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