The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
from Mules of Love (c) BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
There are a lot of things about this time under quarantine that will change me forever, many of them beautiful gifts. It reminds of me that last week before my babies were born. They were late, and each day the waiting was interminable, but I spent the time doing things I would never normally have done. Making friendship bracelets, shopping for mysteries at a used bookstore, going to brunch with my husband on a weekday. How to spend time in an innocent, innocuous, easy way when you are bigger than a house, it's hot as hades (July), you don't want to spend money, etc.
These days, when everything is closed (even the parks), money needs to be saved, and we are all together with no place to go, we are finding new activities, new patterns, new ways of being with each other, new hobbies, and new interests.
The girls have opened a bakery in the playroom and it seems whenever we bake one thing we bake two things at a time. So far Confetti cookies have been a big hit, but we've made our classic family Chocolate Chippers, sugar cookies dyed and marbled to resemble the planet earth as seen from the moon, Magnolia Bakery cupcakes (while retelling the story of when I wouldn't let Kris have a bite of mine when we were dating -- he ordered banana pudding instead, if you can believe it), and pound cake. We made a pizza out of potatoes. Kris cooked a turkey for Easter (our first bird).
We started out with family movies nightly, but that was when we had no kitchen or dining room and every meal was eaten huddled around our coffee table in close proximity to the TV. We watched a lot of classics from our childhood (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Back to the Futures 1-3, Ferris Beuhler's Day Off, A Princess Bride) and some contemporaries (Frozen 2, Forward, The Princess Diaries 1-2).
We've planted seedlings. We've weeded like we've never weeded before.
One night we went for a walk after dinner and watched the stars come out. It was dark, and I pulled the girls in a wagon. We looked at the moon, we noticed a bright star in the sky that turned out to be Venus. The longer we walked, the more stars we could count. We saw Orion's belt appear. It was exciting.
My father started coming over once a week to give astronomy lessons. I downloaded the stargazing app. You hold your phone to the sky and it shows you what constellations you can see. Last night we noticed two stars above the moon -- the heads of the twins of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
To me, there is nothing more magical, an activity I imagine I'd take up in the best version of my life, and one I certainly wouldn't be doing if not for the quarantine.
I've often time found times of great tragedy and disruption to be teachers. It's uncomfortable to admit but sometimes when everyday life is grinding away I wish that something would disrupt it, snuff out all the momentum and hit the pause button. Unfortunately, I have found that only tragedy and waiting for babies can really slow time -- to recenter and refocus life. The hope is that we will carry these new, slower rhythms with us in the future.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19) started as a news item from a distant land called Wuhan, China. I was pretty sure it would stay there. I don't know why, except when these types of things have happened before, that's kind of how it's gone. Then it was on cruise ships. I would never go on a cruise ship so, still distant land. Then there were a few cases in Washington state and it got very bad in a nursing home, which again, seemed very far and didn't apply to me.
Then there was a man in New York who had it. Actually, he lived in New Rochelle and the more I heard about it (he went to a gathering at his temple and a lot of people caught it), at some point I realized he lives in the same town one of my best friends from college grew up in. Her parents go to his temple and live in the quarantine zone. They are ok. But still, all of the sudden, it was getting closer.
And after living and working in New York City for more than a decade, I was clear that any kind of highly contagious virus that also has along life on surfaces was bad news. I started to worry. Not that I would get it, really, though I did stop touching things so much and start washing my hands like crazy. I started worrying about work.
I work for a restaurant group that runs seven large restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We started upping our clean down protocols as per CDC recommendations. That was one thing. But then something funny happened that I never saw coming -- people in the news starting telling people not to go to bars and restaurants. People on social media started to say how irresponsible it would be to go out. Very quickly, the restaurant industry became a casualty of Coronavirus. It turns out that highly contagious viruses that become public health crises intersect with hospitality in a big way.
The next 10 days felt like running from an avalanche that we weren't sure was an avalanche til about day 5. There was no leadership from our federal government. The state was slow to move also. The cities are restaurants were in started putting restrictions on our hours and operations -- same day restrictions. Which is unprecedented and completely insane. Also necessary, but I think we may never see a chain of events like we did ever again because people will look back and think, wow, we could have done that better.
This is a confusing time for everyone on the planet. It just so happens that our industry and my company were at the front of the fallout (well, behind the healthcare workers of course). I have been super keyed in to it because unfortunately I had no choice not to. Now that I am home with my family quarantining and I have some time to process and reflect.
It is challenging to support the company I had to lay myself off from while also homeschooling by two daughters who are 4 and 8. Their teachers threw together a remote learning program in 72 hours. They go to a Montessori school which is very much about a prepared environment and tangible learning materials. So it's possible that being stuck in my house which is also under construction is not exactly the best place to try and learn. We do what we can while also learning how to all share our days and our space in a constructive way. We practice simple Spanish over crudite platters.
Half of our downstairs is cordoned off because after 5 years of living in this house we finally pulled the trigger on renovating our kitchen. So our refrigerator, amongst other things, is currently in our living room. And we are trying to stockpile food that will last us days. We are doing dishes in our bathroom. All things considered I think we are handling it much better than we thought it would.
I know people who have gotten sick from it. It is scary. I don't want anyone to have to go to a hospital right now for anything.
I have a similar feeling to how I felt on 9/11/01, when I was a student at NYU living in a dorm on Union Square, or when Trump was elected in 2016. I grew up in the 80s and 90s when it seemed like nothing mattered, nothing was ever going to happen, and history was over (there was even a guy who wrote a famous book called "The End of History"). And these events make you realize that you are very much living through history. Personally, I feel like this is 9/11 times 1000.
We don't know how long we are going to be quarantined at home. We don't know how long our businesses are going to be closed. We don't know what the fallout will be from this virus -- the sick, the ones we will lose. The economic casualties. Will I be one of them?
I keep thinking of my grandmother who grew up on a farm in the Depression. There is a part of me that just thinks, if this is it, if all the boom-times are over, I can deal with that. It might be harder, but it might be simpler. I might have a clearer idea of where I stand. I might be able to focus on other parts of my life that have taken the back seat.
There is another part of me that feels the calling to work in government. It has come up for me a few times in my life. One of them was at the Women's March. When I was leading people off the boardwalk into Bradley Park, I saw my brother and stopped. He remarked at how amazing it was. As thousands of people walked by me, chanting, empowered, I turned to him and said Jim, "I think I could be president." And he said, "I think you're right."
Maybe that's ridiculous. But I believe government is important, really important at times like these. I believe I have a calling to serve. I believe I'm smart enough to figure out almost anything. I believe I can broker compromise like it's my superpower. I know how to communicate, and I can give a damn good speech. I don't know if I have the stomach to run for elected office, but I have such a yearning in me to be a part of that world, I think it will be the next chapter of my life.
. . .
We started a coloring club at work to support the workforce that we had to lay of on Wednesday March 18 because of the government mandated response to COVID-19.
As a business, all our intention is on reopening when this is over. That will be a feat for many restaurants, many won’t survive. However if I ever had to bet on a team, I’d bet on ours at Smith. Pulling off the impossible is our specialty.
So many need support at this time. This problem is bigger than any one person, group, company, or industry. We are dealing with a human problem and all our lives are at stake. With this stunning cascade of events, in this international emergency, our 7 restaurants at Smith had to close their doors last Monday for the health of the public and our employees. Our biggest imperative is that we open up as soon as is feasible when this is all over. When? When. Until then, we are taking it one day a time.
The thing I have grown to cherish most about the hospitality industry is that a healthy, thriving restaurant requires all different kinds of people in order to function like a well-oiled machine. The breadth of backgrounds, ages, races, professional and education experience, the hard-knock tales. The tales of incredible triumph and transformation. When given an opportunity, a restaurant is a place where a person can rise above wherever they came from to create a new future for themselves and their family. It's usually the person you never see coming who ends up being your champion.
The reality in this country is that most Americans have little-to-no savings for the kind of a head-spinning, lightning fast crisis like the one we find ourselves in with COVID-19. Not for medical bills, not for sudden unemployment. Which is why we wanted to put something out there in the world that might highlight the incredible love and generosity spreading around the world, and create a cushion for our staff in this time of emergency.
I don't know how you choose where to give right now. I don't like having to ask for handouts. But I do like to color.
P.S.If you made it this far, don't you agree now's a great time to pass Medicare for All? Call Congress now. 202-224-3121