I tip my head back and let the last drops of Cab drip from my plastic wine glass onto my tongue. The wine burns my throat deliciously as I sink my shoulders below the hot water. It’s Friday night and officially day 12 of the self-quarantine. I’m trying to ignore the fact that this is my fifth night in a row drinking a glass or two… or three.
As we soak in the hot tub, I look up at the trees. I hear a chorus of bullfrogs singing from our neighborhood creek. The sound transports me back to my childhood bedroom.
Growing up, my bedroom overlooked the pond in our backyard. When the bullfrogs came out to sing, that meant the ground wasn’t frozen anymore. I loved rolling open my bedroom window in the summer, letting in the sticky Minnesota air and the sounds. They were my nightly lullaby, a real source of comfort.
Those singing bullfrogs accompanied me on tearful nights. They were there when I stayed up too late texting a boy for the first time. Those bullfrogs sang as I packed my bags to move away from home, vowing I was leaving for good.
Fifteen years later and the singing bullfrogs are a constant in my life once again. New home, new state, new life, same sound. I think about how different life is now than when I was listening to those bullfrogs from my bedroom window.
I think of how I’m one of the “lucky ones” in the face of this pandemic.
I’m healthy. I have my job. I’m safe. My friends and family are healthy. I live in a home I love with the man I love. We have a backyard, a garden. In moments like this, my default is to feel overwhelming guilt. ”How come we have it good?” is what my mind wants to think.
I’m trying not to be that way anymore, though. I just want to be grateful. I force myself to pivot from guilt to gratitude. ”I’m thankful to be here with him,” I think. ”I’m thankful for this hot tub on a chilly night while the bullfrogs sing. Thank you, God, for another day of life.”
I think all of these thoughts while my fiance, Matt, sips his beer and searches the dark sky for the great horned owl we hear hooting in the distance.
This is our life, and right now, it’s okay. Sometimes I have moments of deep hurt and paralyzing fear. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of feelings and varying levels of “okay-ness.” Yes, in my immediate life, I am okay. But still, I hurt for others. As an empath, that makes it hard for me to ever feel completely okay.
We picked up dinner Monday night from our favorite Italian restaurant and I nearly cried.
That evening was the first time I’d left the house in nine days. I looked out the window of Matt’s truck and joked, “So, this is what the outside looks like, huh? I feel like I’ve been held hostage!” He laughed sympathetically because he’d been in the office every day that week. His job as an attorney is considered essential.
The owner of the Italian restaurant is this lovely Italian man. I watched from the truck as the man brought our order out. He looked tired and was wearing latex gloves. He smiled at us as he set our food down on a white plastic table. The care he took to respect our space made me want to cry.
I remembered how, just two months ago, this man had served us on our anniversary. He’d brought a complimentary bottle of bubbly to our table and talked to us about Italian wine with an infectious, fevered passion. Who would’ve thought that two months later he’d be bringing us gnocchi in a paper bag with a pair of gloves on?
“Thank you so much for supporting us,” he said earnestly, stepping away from the table to give Matt space to pick up his food.
“Thank you! We’ll keep supporting you!” Matt replied. He walked to the truck with a sad smile as I waved to the restaurant owner.
“That wrecks me,” I said to Matt as we pulled away.
“Me too,” he said.
We drove home quietly and I kept thinking about how sad I felt that people were really, really struggling. My guilt wanted to creep in again. The way these small businesses were so grateful for our business hurt. I wished I could support every single one of them.
In being okay so far, I feel an immense duty to support.
I know the best gift I can give right now is social distance, to which I’ve committed devoutly. But I also yearn to support, encourage, and be a light for others. Except my emotions have betrayed me, or so I’ve felt. I haven’t been as strong as I think I should be. Some moments I’m happy, relaxed, content. Other moments I’m terrified and anxious. I want to crawl into a hole and cry for myself, others, the world.
In the first week of self-quarantine, I took my temperature daily, if not twice a day. I needed the constant reassurance of seeing “96.8” on the screen to know that my scratchy throat and tight chest were just anxiety or allergies. “You never know,” I’d think to myself, ”Why not me?”
While making coffee the other morning, I cried looking at a picture of a grandfather meeting his newborn grandson for the first time through a glass window. I was overcome by the sweetness and sadness of the moment.
My heart cracks open as I witness the pain and beauty of human beings on a daily basis. We’re doing the best we can to support one another in our imperfect, human ways. Although I want to fall to pieces when I have to step to the other side of the road to avoid another person on a walk, I know I’m doing it out of love and respect.
Even though my heart aches for people losing their jobs, their health, their peace of mind, I know I can do my best to help in my little corner of the world. I can share encouraging words, listen, donate money, support businesses. I know all of this is teaching us something. I know we’re becoming kinder, stronger, more compassionate people. I know we’re going to be okay. It’s just going to be a different kind of okay.
As I look up at the trees, squinting my eyes for that great horned owl, I let the chorus of bullfrogs carry me into the present moment. We are here. This is our life. It’s 2020 and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Life is happening right now and we can’t wish it away, so I’m soaking in the beauty of what is.