Jan. 7, 2021

Quarantine

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Butch would have made quarantine so fun. He was always down for an adventure and loved to dazzle you with his attention to every detail to surprise you even more. He could easily use his MacGyver skills to save the day no matter what we did. Being a true outdoorsman, he would have found countless ways to remain socially distant but fully engaged in life. I can imagine hikes, bicycling, picnics, jeep rides, kayaking, and so many other things that are just not fun to do without him. Even indoors on cold or rainy days was better with him for a playmate.

When we were first married, he was stationed at Fort Hood, TX. We would leave home on a Friday night and head for nearby Lampasas, TX for pizza. Not once did we make it to Lampasas. Instead, we would end up in Abilene to visit my cousin, or Louisiana to visit dozens of others. Wandering aimlessly on the myriad farm roads in Texas was just an adventure. A tank of gas in our Volkswagen and his toolbox in the boot, and we were ready for anything.

When our son attended a parent coop preschool, we were required to do a number of hours of volunteer work at the school. He not only attended his fair share of parent meetings alone, while I was at home with our newborn, but he participated in work parties as well. One Saturday, a crew of primarily white collar fathers was working on a landscaping project in the large yard. When someone turned over the rented tractor they were using, it was Butch who gleefully engineered a series of levers and pulleys to flip it back over.

Our family spent a week at Camp Sacramento for several years when our kids were young. It was like summer camp for families up in the Sierras. There was fun stuff for everyone. Butch consistently hit home runs in the baseball games, often launching the ball across highway 50 for good measure. It was Butch that helped free the camp van when a young staffer hit loose gravel and swerved into the ditch.

For my 40th birthday, he invited three of his truck driver buddies and their wives over for dinner. He assigned each of them a part of the taco dinner he was planning. When they arrived and settled themselves in the living room, he ushered the guys into the kitchen and the wives into the living room to relax. He then lead them is preparing the dinner and later doing the cleanup while I and the other wives enjoyed the break. Clearly, roles have changed over time, but this was a big deal back then.

He once showed up at the adult education school where I was teaching in the evening with a seven course meal served in the back of his pickup. It included such delicacies as canned soup served from a thermos, packaged salads, frozen entrées warmed and wrapped in foil, pudding cups and steaming hot coffee with flavored creamer to make it more official seeming. There was a small folding table that fit perfectly between the wheel wells with a table cloth and battery operated candles to ensure candle light in case of wind. When my allotted dinner break time was almost over, he lifted the table cloth by the four corners and whisked the whole meal into a box to be disposed of at home. My students were beside themselves with delight that old people still did such cool stuff. We were no doubt posted on social media sights we had yet to learn about.

On a vacation to San Diego, we took our kayaks along. Finding a quiet area off the bay, he taught me how to use my new kayak and then lead me some distance away from the launch area. When I expressed concern that I would be too tired or unskilled to make it back, he continually said, “Not to worry, I’ve got this.” When it was time to return, he opened the hatch of his kayak and pulled out a tow rope and a large umbrella. He tied us together, opened the umbrella, and sailed us back. He had carefully steered us into the wind on our way out, so the wind would easily take us home. People around us were duly impressed!!

There is no part of a global pandemic that is good. The irreversible damage will take years to overcome. Yet it offers each of us a chance to grow and change in many ways. In the wake of the tremendous loss, in lives, in financial devastation, in the consequences for students, in mental health, in countless other ways we can find gratitude for what remains and strength we might not have known we had. But we all would prefer that the clock reverse and that we get our original lives back.

Quarantine, however, is what you make of it. My technophobic senior companions have found their way to online church, social events, watch parties, card playing, doctor appointments, and holiday celebrations in ways they could not have imagined a year ago. My granddaughter has attended all manner of entertainment online. We have done kindergarten, ballet, jazz, French and singing class, yoga, martial arts, play dates, cousin time, and her grandparents retirement party online. Her aunt in Canada sends her what they call chapter books and meets her online each week to read and discuss a chapter. She and my granddaughters in another city spend long periods of time sharing play dough, playing dolls, reading books, and giving tours of their rooms and toy boxes on Zoom or Duo. My family had a Zoom reunion that enlisted nearly every member when we would never have had that kind of turnout in person. We had dessert with family members on Thanksgiving and opened presents with them at Christmas on Zoom because some of them are out and about and don’t want to risk the health of others. I was even able to say goodbye to my amazing aunt via Zoom before she disappeared into brain cancer when it was not safe to travel to see her in person.

Becoming us without them is very much like a pandemic. Denial feeds the false hope that this is all a dream and we will wake up any minute and have our lives back. As reality sets in we are forced to face the global changes that this loss will impose upon us. Nothing is the same. The mind numbing pain isolates us from people, even when we are all in the same room. All the fun goes out of life for a time. There is a sense of waiting and waiting for some unnamed thing that will never come. It is hard to trust ourselves to make good choices for the future. It is even harder to invest in others when we now understand, in very real ways, that no one and nothing is permanent. There is no avoiding that we will have to do everything a new way because no amount of protest will make it not so. While the memories grow sweet again as the pain diminishes, they are no more a replacement for the real thing than a Zoom Christmas will ever be a replacement for a room full of loved ones and yummy dinners. There will never be a vaccine to prevent or cure grief.

Slowly we adapt and adjust to this new reality as we have to extended quarantine. The new normal unfolds whether we welcome it or not. Much to our surprise, and sometimes against our will, we find strength we never knew we had. We can learn to be grateful for what is here now, and shift our focus away from what has been taken. The pain becomes but one facet of the diamond that emerges from the intense pressure required to move forward with courage and hope. We survive. And in the process, we may to discover a version of ourselves that we could never have imagined before the loss. They would be proud of what we have become and we can be proud of ourselves as well.