Tag Archives: COVID-19

I Will Miss The Pandemic

Photo by Barbara A. Besteni

Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.

But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?

A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.

If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.

Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?

The new normal awaits

Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.

The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.

Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.

Things like:

  • Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
  • Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
  • Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
  • Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
  • Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”

These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.

The gifts of quarantine

Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.

For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.

I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.

I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision. 

Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera. 

I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.

I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.

I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.

I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls. 

On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.

I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.

While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.

COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.

It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.

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Thinking Inside The Box

It has been nearly one year since we’ve been living inside the box known as the COVID-19 quarantine. And while the initial restrictions brought about by the pandemic have eased somewhat, we are still very much stuck inside, longing for the days when we can move freely around the cabin of life and get back to “normal.”

We have spent the past year living inside our homes, working from home, teaching our kids from home, learning from home, and fixing or replacing the myriad of things that have broken down or worn out thanks to stay-at-home overuse.

This has kicked nostalgic longings for mask-free dining, hugging friends, and travel into high gear. It has also given those patient enough to notice the silver lining time to look inside our souls, minds, and hearts and ponder life’s big questions.

Questions such as:

What’s so wrong with the box that everyone thinks we should think out of it?

“Normal” as we once knew it is still beyond our reach. Perhaps we will never be normal again. So maybe it’s time to take a look at the tired, old phrase of “thinking outside the box” and look around inside to see the treasures that lie within.

Breaking Down the Walls

To think outside the box means to break the bonds of the status quo, the mental prison that limits our ability to acknowledge our power and live the purpose for which we were created.

“That’s great! Let’s go.” you say as you kick down the walls of stagnation and step out into the fresh air of possibilities.

Hold on a minute.

Thinking outside the box also implies abandoning everything that’s inside. And while leaving behind the pain and frustrations that have kept us trapped inside, we also leave behind the lessons and wonders that have gotten us this far.

We are then in danger of creating a new box with the same limiting beliefs that kept us from going anywhere.

Two years ago, I knocked down the walls of alcohol consumption and entered the box of sober curiosity. It was liberating. And, oh, so sweet!

Literally.

I jumped out of Total Wine & More and into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I no longer drank alcohol, but Willy became my BFF. We packed the pantry with dark chocolate (because, after all, it was heart healthy), and used the mid-afternoon sugar crash as an excuse to devour bon bons by the bagful.

I had given up booze, but had forgotten to take with me the lesson of how to ditch a bad habit. Once I realized this, I ran back to the old box, left Willy there to fend for himself, and grabbed bananas, grapes, and a bunch of berries to sustain me through the rest of my journey.

My mind, my mood—and let’s be honest here—my mid-section are all the better for it.

This is just one small example of how throwing the contents of the old box away can hurt you in the long run.

Thinking outside the box is an adventure. But embarking on an adventure just because crowd mentality tells you to do so, leaves you unprepared for the obstacles you may face along the road.

It might be a little chilly outside the box, so grab a jacket before you venture out.

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The Diamonds and the Food Line: A Look Back at 2020

Prelude: When they first arrived in the United States from Cuba, my maternal grandfather gave my grandmother a three-diamond necklace. It was passed down to my mom, and although I wore it on special occasions — my high school senior prom, weddings, and other formal celebrations — I always returned it to my mom for safe keeping.

In January 2020, the necklace disappeared.

December 26, 2020: My life’s traveling companion and I were on our way to the Seybold Building in downtown Miami to have the diamond in my commitment ring reset after it had suddenly fallen out of the band a few days earlier.

We had exchanged the custom-made rings in May of 2008. Our trip to downtown Miami’s famous jewelry emporium the week after Christmas 2020 was meant to be a simple in-and-out deal, followed by picking up a curbside lunch and finding a secluded place to remove our masks long enough to eat our meal in peace.

The Universe, who never misses an opportunity to teach us a lesson, had other plans.

“This diamond is cracked,” the jeweler said as he began cleaning it.

I found out the hard way (pardon the pun), that despite their strength, diamonds are vulnerable if they are struck with force at certain angles. (I save the symbolism in this for another post.)

Bottom line: The diamond would have to be replaced, and although Santa had already come to town, she would have to come back in two days to pick up and pay for a new stone. The old diamond would be re-cut, and depending on how much could be salvaged, I could choose between having it placed on a small pendant or a single earring to upgrade the one my traveling companion had given me on our first Valentine’s Day together. (I have an odd number of piercings. It’s as radical as I get.)

On our way to lunch, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that had broken in 2020 and how much money we had spent to have them either fixed or replaced. I was lost in thought when I saw what looked like a huge traffic jam just off to my right. Although traffic was moving, the line of cars was going nowhere. It went on for about six blocks, turned a corner and continued as far as the eye could see.

A quick Google search revealed its purpose. While I was busy feeling sorry for my cracked diamond, hundreds of people were lining up for a box of groceries to feed their families.

My choice of having to choose between a diamond pendant or a diamond earring seemed pathetic at best.

Lesson learned.

A Look Back at an Unprecedented Year

For me, 2020 began with a lot of promise. After three years of semi-retirement, I was offered a full-time job doing what I love to do in an industry that was totally foreign to me. I happily accepted the challenge.

On March 11, 2020, things turned on a dime. For most of the world, March 11 was the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For my traveling companion and me, however, it was the day our dream trip was denied. Moments after we arrived at Miami International Airport, the President of Argentina — the first stop on our trip — announced that anyone entering the country from the U.S. would have to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to continue their journey.

Instead of an international vacation, we went home to tour the rooms of our house and follow stay-at-home orders for the next who knows how long. It really wasn’t a bad deal. Other than the postponed vacation, working and living together 24/7 wasn’t all that bad. We had worked at home together for several years. This was just a continuation of same movie.

And then lightning struck … literally.

“WTF WAS THAT?”

We were working at our workstations on a quiet overcast afternoon when we abandoned our computers and raced to identify the source of a sonic boom that had shaken the house.

Lightning from a storm that was a prelude to 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season had struck one of our neighbor’s palm trees across the street. Other than a few startled palm fronds, everything seemed to be OK.

An hour later, I glanced out the window and noticed that the pool vacuum was not working, and the pool pump was eerily quiet. I’m not an expert on lightning, nor do I play one on TV, but according to our electrician, the electrical charge of the lightning bolt had made its way to the junction box where the pool pump was connected and turned it to toast.

A few phone calls, several days, and quite a few dollars later, everything was fixed.

Life went on, until …

The House’s Water Broke

It began as a trickle coming from underneath the water heater in the garage. It took two plumbers and about six weeks to identify and fix the pinhole leak in the wall that was the source of Niagara Falls’ temporary move to our garage.

To show the garage leak who was boss, the ceiling in the dining room joined in the fun and also sprung a leak.

The morning after the garage stopped bleeding water …

An Appliance War Broke Out in the Kitchen

For no good reason at all — other than it was 2020 — our perfectly good glass stove top cracked in half. A replacement one was ordered, but it would take three months to arrive. As visions of three months of barbecues danced through my head, the igniter on our never-had-a-problem-with-it-before BBQ broke.

Not to be outdone, a huge scratch appeared on the refrigerator door, an injury no doubt prompted by the appliance war. In addition, one of the refrigerator door shelf dividers cracked in half. We think this might have happened as the poor shelf cowered in fear while the war was raging.

As I loaded dishes in the dishwasher one night, I looked around the kitchen and wondered what else could possibly go wrong. The next morning I awoke to a flood on the kitchen floor. The dishwasher had read my thoughts and answered my question.

But, hey, I could deal with all that as long as I had coffee every morning. But coffeemakers can read thoughts too, and mine was no exception. One morning I poured water into its receptacle to brew coffee, and it all leaked onto the floor.

Pass my credit card, please.

Plastic Pellets, the Platform Bed, and Random Inconveniences

Since one of the joys of quarantine is getting to know the other rooms in the house, let’s move to the master bedroom where out of nowhere, the platform bed began raining tiny plastic pellets and scattering them throughout the bedroom and master bathroom.

One tiny pellet, two tiny pellets, 3,000 …

When they made their way into the dining room, it was time to call the manufacturer and find out what was going on.

Would we add a new platform or mattress to our 2020 casualty list? Thankfully, no. The pellets were coming from a ruptured anti-moisture bag that the installers had neglected to remove when they installed the platform … three years ago!

That night, we identified another victim of 2020’s antics. Our not quite 1-year-old television in the bedroom was fried. Binge watching in bed was on hold.

The Rest of the House Joins in the Party

While we were dealing with the “major” casualties, small inconveniences popped up to keep us entertained.

The high hat lights in the kitchen pantry, the hall closet, and the living room went out … on the same day.

The paper shredder that has worked like a charm since the day we got it, was taken out by a single sheet of paper. Always the optimist, I saw this as a Universal symbol that 2020’s shredding of life as we knew it was about to come to an end.

Which begs the question …

Was 2020 really different than any other year? Or did the fact that we had too much time on our hands to focus on these things make them seem bigger than they were? Stuff breaks all the time and we fix it. But in 2020, we had nothing to distract us from these “tragedies” that were really nothing more than the inconveniences of modern living.

But 2020 forced us to wake up from our unconscious life and start giving thanks for what we have.

The world suffered a plethora of tragedies in 2020 … real tragedies. But hidden beneath the sadness and pain, 2020 also brought us a gift.

Focus on what’s important … on the things that once broken can’t be fixed or replaced. Give thanks for what you have because one day those things you most take for granted could suddenly disappear.

Epilogue

On Jan. 1 2021, I got an early-morning call from my mom. We had chosen to spend New Year’s Eve at our respective homes, and treat NYE like any other day on the calendar. I had struggled with this, but had accepted it, knowing the Universe would send a sign that we had made the right decision.

Mom’s call sealed the deal.

“I have great news,” she said. “I was looking through one of the drawers in my nightstand …”

I knew what was coming.

“… and I found a box with your grandmother’s diamond pendant.”

Call it coincidence, call it a miracle … the Universe doesn’t care what you call Her gifts. A simple “Thank you” is Her only expectation.

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