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  • Writer's pictureLeanne W. Smith

My novel quarantine

Blogging about unexpected roads traveled. Seeking to keep my chin up, and to help lift yours.

Today is day 9 of a 14-day quarantine, my first. Excerpts from my journal: March 13, Friday: We fly from Vienna to Chicago a day before O’Hare becomes a top news story. Our wait to get through customs is long, but not as long as it will be after the new ban goes into effect at midnight. We are not shoulder-to-shoulder, but stand in snaking lines and inch forward with patience. No one takes our temperature. We list countries we have visited (Italy and Austria), but questions from gate agents are minimal. When we arrive in Nashville there are definitely more than 10 people in baggage claim, there is even some hugging as families come to claim students. When our oldest, Jo, collects me and Shelby from the curb, we don’t hug or touch. We load our own luggage and sit in the back. She has disinfectant wipes for later, for after drop-off at our respective homes. It is surreal when I enter the house. I am home after a six-week absence—home to the familiar, yet all has altered outside these walls. A tidal wave has crashed over the world and I was standing on the beach in close proximity watching as the sand began to be sucked up in the gathering swell of the menacing waters. Day 1: The house feels like the Taj Mahal after my apartment and hotel suite. The kitchen I once thought small is now spacious, but the laundry is the most incredible—an entire washer and dryer for two people! Shelby has come to stay the first two nights with me. Stan has temporarily moved to my mother’s, in an abundance of caution and out of respect for coworkers. He comes by two or three times that first day, to look at us through the glass of the front door, and to set bread and milk on the porch. There is a two-day wait on Instacart deliveries. Day 2: I move in a funk of disbelief…jet lag…the stress of the past few weeks of the tidal wave sucking my feet deep into the sands and the wave smacking me so hard that I am good for little, even a computer-viewed church service. I remind myself that these are unprecedented times and try to give myself some slack, but as an Achiever on the StrengthsFinder, slack doesn’t come easily for me. I do the only thing I can typically manage when I find myself in funks like this: I nest. I move some furniture around, tidy up, reclaim my space. At some point I binge-watch Anne with an E. Shelby has gone back to her apartment. I have a hard time hitting “send” on my weekly blog post, trying not to feel that I have somehow failed my readers with an inability to be upbeat. Day 3: I wake to a quiet house, my adult voice telling me I need to be more productive today. I roll from the bed and make coffee—glorious coffee—in a great big cup with lots of half ‘n’ half and the mocha creamer I have missed. Wait! I only have one bottle of each. How long will those last me? I check the toilet paper supply, marveling that this has become the symbol of hoarding in America. Will our generation rise to the occasion of this worldwide challenge? Or will it be every man, woman, and elderly person for themselves? When I was doing research for Leaving Independence, I read that some wagon trains would leave those sick with cholera by the side of the trail. To die alone. Away from others so they couldn’t make anyone else sick. In reading about what is happening in the hospitals in Italy, I am reminded of this phenomenon and weep. It’s one thing to read about such things in history, and another to know that it is happening in real time with ventilators in a country I now love. Worry is heavy. I am tired of how familiar I am growing with the feel of it on my shoulders. I can walk hard roads for one reason only: I believe in God and His everlasting love for me. Like you, I don’t know when or how this pandemic will come to an end or the final toll it will take, but I do know that God will be present at the beginning, middle, and end of it. Day 4: St. Paddy’s Day. According to our last canceled group trip itinerary, I was supposed to be in Ireland today. Now, I don’t even bother to wear green. Lincoln is home from the UK. He and Shelby come by to wash Lincoln’s laundry out of an abundance of caution and respect for their fellow tenants. Those in quarantine have to think of others, and they have to stick together. We elbow-bump when he comes in the door. There is a lot being written and said about the effects of this pandemic on our health systems and economy. Our generation has never been tested with the need for being considerate enough not to hoard toilet paper so everyone will have a roll. But I wonder about the cost to our hearts. How long can our psyches handle the absence of human touch? Some good things will rise from these ashes. Along with the bad, there will be advances and new industries borne. There will be incredible stories of the human spirit to counter ugly behaviors. Here at the start, we’re collectively feeling edgy and uncertain, but cream always rises to the top. And necessity is the mother of invention. I’m searching for every good thing Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:8 and wanting to make a note of it—to write it down. God put the need inside me, and perhaps in offering some words of hope to others, I myself will be healed. Day 5: It’s helping me to list the days so I don’t lose track of time. I think of Tom Hanks on Cast Away chalking the days off on the walls of his cave. I, too, have a sore tooth. Will I have to knock it out with an ice skate? I hope not; I don't have an ice skate. For those of us in quarantine, we’ve suddenly been given the gift of time—the very thing most of feel we never have enough of. Periodically, when my heart can handle it, I read online news for any new developments. I’ve been searching for those positive, heartfelt, human interest stories, knowing that with all this doom and gloom, angels out there will surely surface to stem the tide. Today I find one—a child who suggested his family hang Christmas lights to offer some joy in these dark times. I decide to try it. I pull the lights that normally hang on our back screen porch inside where I can feel the full effect of their cheer. The darker it gets, the more magical they become.

Days 6-7-8: On Thursday the sun peeps momentarily through the clouds. I run outside to stand in it. Warmed by the golden drop, I make of list of things I should be doing and get started on them. Action is the best antidote I know for doom and gloom. On Friday a friend texts to ask if I am bored and I claim a writer is never bored. As Anne Shirley would say, we have plenty of scope for the imagination. I actually love big swaths of time in which to think, dream and ponder. But I do miss my husband, my colleagues, my students and friends. In tribute to John Donne, I close with his words on Saturday as I schedule this post, altered for the strange and current times: No woman is an island entire of herself; every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. When in isolation, our ability to thrive can be diminished. So let’s redeem what we can. We need one another. When one person suffers and dies, a piece of all of us suffers and dies with them. So let’s wash our hands, not hoard, share when safe to, exercise the gifts God gave each of us, and do all we can to protect our hearts so that we can be a light to others.

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