Thursday, October 22, 2020
Survival Day #15 - Year of the Pandemic
What has happened to our world? (Part of me just wants to leave it there, that question, unanswered, and go back to bed). Fifteen years ago an almost 6 week medically induced coma was a wonderful way to escape from reality. Though not my intent when I climbed into my Jeep after a long day of work at the Walden Inn on DePauw University's campus in Greencastle Indiana to start my hour long commute back to Indy, the long nap that followed allowed me to kick the habit of smoking cigarettes and it brought my loved ones together in ways that only traumatic events can. It also sent me into a dream world that maybe, just maybe, you'll all get to read about soon. (Please understand that "soon" is a relative and somewhat aspirational word...at least in this case).
In many ways we've all been living through one long traumatic event that has dominated 2020. That dream world, which was full of nightmare experiences interspersed with beautiful imagery, thrilling moments, and awe inspiring revelations seems far more inviting now than at any point in the past fifteen years. If I could just go to sleep for a while...for a long while...maybe when I wake up all the madness will be over and my family and friends will all be able to gather together once more and hold each other in loving embrace without fear of unseen, potentially lethal, viral infection. But, alas, I have not voted yet, so no such restorative nap is imminent. For truly, now more than ever, our collective votes may be the only chance we have of flipping the script and putting an end to all of this absurdity...so I will stay awake.
The year has been strange and challenging for all of us. While in a strange way the conditions of the pandemic has led to improved health for me, I also had to stand witness as my wife, step-children, brother & sister's-in-law, and all of their family suffered through the loss of my father-in-law. He was an amazing man who led a long and fantastic life. Alzheimer's afflicted him before I ever really had the chance to know him, but I have fond memories of him as I came to know his family and love his daughter & grandchildren. In the years that he was a part of my life, we had one day where we were together throughout the entire day and he was surprisingly lucid all day long. He shared personal stories with me about himself, the love of his life (my wife's mother), and his family history. I will treasure that day and his stories always. Sadly, he was among the first in his nursing home to contract Covid-19 from an asymptomatic nurse who didn't wear a mask when she entered his room. (In all fairness to the nurse, this was early on when our nation's leadership had not embraced the concept of such simple protective measures...though it was months after they knew better and were still hiding many truths from us). He fought the virus longer than most, for nearly two months, as we all came to terms with what this really looked like, and in the end he showed us how to leave this earth with a legacy of family and history and the impact of all of his many good acts in life.
For me, the growing reality of the pandemic began on my 45th birthday. I had broken my tailbone during a bad fall the week before and was laying in a reclined position on our bed with an ice-pack under my butt, watching the news as lockdowns were being reported all across our state and the horrors of overwhelmed healthcare systems were being reported from New York and countries abroad. Irena was working in the living room...day one of what has now been an eight month continuing exile from her office. Colleen was in her room sleeping after we had made her get up early for a school bus that never came (our bad for not checking our emails before we went to bed on March 12th). After several days of watching the world shut down I couldn't sit on my bruised rear-end in front of the tv any longer. So, I put an inflatable donut pillow in my wheelchair (not easy to balance on with no legs, but it probably did wonders for my core strength) and headed outside to begin building a garden for Irena and her sister to maintain.
I dismantled the sections of a privacy fence we had removed from the middle of our yard on day one of our ownership of this property. For over a year it had leaned against the back of our storage shed and now, due to the pandemic, I had motivation and inspiration to put the lumber to good use as raised garden beds. I went a little overboard, had several arguments with Irena about how big she wanted the garden to be and the number of cedar bushes I would have to remove to make space for it (fyi, for all the married people out there, we weren't arguing about the garden or the shrubs, we were stressed and hurting and didn't know how to deal), and ultimately had a summer and fall with a lot of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some mystery vegetables & herbs that we don't remember planting on the menu.
When the garden was done I threw myself into whatever outside projects I could find. While my tailbone continued to heal I built a new ramp for the storage shed (which also doubles as a new roof with attic space for a warren of chipmunks that I couldn't bring myself to kill). I started swimming laps three days a week again, and laid a new patio with bricks that a neighbor was kind enough to donate, in an effort to improve my mobility outside. As the outdoor projects dwindled I began to recognize the need to stay active and so began looking for work. I also dusted off the half completed manuscript of a book that I walked away from four years ago and started the editing process on the only completed portion of it. With Irena's support we created an outdoor office space where I can focus without being a distraction for her while she works in the living room turned office space, or disturbing Cade or Colleen while they work in their respective home spaces turned classrooms.
Conversations with old friends and mentors ultimately led to a new relationship with an old organization from my past. I began doing outreach for a non-profit that helps people with disabilities live as independently as they want. This introduced me to the world of Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms...a challenge for a semi-robotic luddite, but I'm learning. Beginning this work has also reconnected me with peers from the disability community whom I had not communicated with in years. I'm actually now going in to an office one day a week, which gives me a reason to regularly use my prosthetics again. During the pandemic I have actually improved my health and expanded my circles of influence...a five year plan is beginning to take shape.
While there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the world...including our personal world...there is also a lot of positivity. We have been lucky, and every day I'm reminded to count our blessings. Irena has been able to adapt her job to work from home and has only become more valuable to her operation. She had major surgery on her hip in the middle of all of this and has safely recovered with more energy and mobility than before. While many are laid-off or furloughed I have been able to find work that is both rewarding and purposeful. Our children have stayed healthy and have been able to maintain a semblance of a social life, while also continuing their education.
In the middle of all of the sickness, economic instability, racially & socially driven violence, and death that has dominated our past year it is easy to feel the hate, anger, and uncertainty in the world and let it take control through depression or intimidate you to hide from it all by going to sleep for as long as possible. If you're struggling with that, take a step back, meditate or pray if need be, but focus that meditation and prayer on allowing your eyes to open to the good things in your life, the blessings...your blessings, and the hope that is still very much alive in our world. If you still struggle to see it, then I would encourage you to take a long hard look at what you don't like or what obstacles are in your path and then take action to change your situation. Maybe it's placing a call to a friend, a doctor, or an organization that is there to help. Or, if the challenges that confront you are more global and less personal, then vote to change our leadership across the board and give the world around you a new chance to improve and evolve. If you're not satisfied with your current situation, or the state of our world, change is the only way to bring about improvement. It can be scary, but change doesn't have to be bad, especially if you take an active role in it.