Remembering How Not to Panic

Remembering How Not to Panic

Recently a group of friends gathered outside (when it was lawful to do so), around an open fire pit, at the Four Seasons Resort in Texas, sipping a smooth Pinot Noir, discussing this new Coronavirus, it wasn’t a thing yet in the US, but we knew it was coming. One of my companions was feeling extremely vulnerable, but to be fair, most of us feel exposed when unexpected circumstances complicate our lives. Claudia seemed concerned, mostly due to the fact she is caring for ailing parents, and worries about their safety.

The guys like to play the macho card, “we’re not buying into this media-driven panic.”

I was quiet, listening, still very unsure of where this virus was going to take us. I had no idea that within days I’d be down with the flu, my school closed, and most of my family required to work from my home.

Claudia says, “you seem pensive Cheryl, what are you thinking about?”

Me, “I’m thinking about my Dad (who passed away years ago but his legacy remains).”


I hesitated, hoping it wasn’t the wine inspiring my thoughts, but wanting to share.

“When I was a kid I watched my Dad when things got chaotic.”

“Was he good at emergencies?”

“Well, for one thing, I never heard my Dad yell, not once. If I didn’t know what to do in a particular situation, I watched my Dad, he was calm, and it made me feel safe. When things went south, as they are wont to do, he would look around, and did the next right thing.”

“Like what?”

“I remember driving up to a ski resort in the Sierra’s in January, Nancy and I were just kids, as we rounded a sharp corner the car spun out of control. From the back seat our world went into this tight spin, no one wore seat belts in the 70’s, but more alarming is my Mom, who has taken hold of Dad’s right arm, practically yanking it out of the socket, screaming, ‘RICHARD, RICHARD, RICHARD, we’re skidding.’ [nothing like stating the obvious] As calm as possible my Dad tries to correct the spin, while holding my Mom in place, and with a strong clear voice he says, ‘we’re going to be okay.’ Now mind you the car is careening recklessly towards an unguarded ledge and all appears lost.”

“What the hell happened?”

“He eventually stopped the car and we continued on up to the resort. The point being it wasn’t just how he dealt with emergencies, or one of my Mom’s rants about someone walking across her freshly mopped floor, me panicking about an upcoming math test. He used the same tactics in every situation. He’d hand me the mop, find my Mom a seat on the patio with a cool ice tea, or he’d sit down and go over every equation until I understood. He stayed composed and did what he could do to ease the tension or fear.

Larry my husband says, “he was an unusual guy, taught me a lot about patience, and remaining calm even under the worst circumstances.”

One of Larry’s friends, “you’re a slow learner dude.”

General laughter fills the night air, because my husband is not known for his calm demeanor, although clearly he admires this attribute in others.

I add, “What I didn’t know was he was teaching me how not to panic.”

Everyone has been trying to put six feet between each other since the virus has traveled from sea to shining sea, the social distancing currently recommended by the health department for avoiding contagions, and isolating the sick.  I’m recovering nicely from the untimely flu, minus 5 pounds, but my family started to treat me as if a leper, one who remains highly contagious for the rest of her God-given life.

It’s rude.

I’ve been banned to my room, Kelley follows me round with antibacterial whips, grazing every surface I touch. Larry’s taken to opening windows in the near vicinity, and it’s not quite Spring, if you get my drift.

It’s not what Jesus would do.

If he were walking the earth today he’d have to outsource the healing as he did in his own time, turns out healing has always been in high demand, his tactics of standing with the marginalized would be frowned upon, along with rubbing spittle and mud in one’s eyes.

I wonder if we are going to look at the time for the rest of our lives as before Corona and after Corona?

NCAA, Broadway, marathons, churches, restaurants, coffee houses, concerts, plays, schools, cruises, conferences, corporations, flights, even the happiest place on earth is now closed. Think about that. Do they think we know how to create our own fun?

Here’s my take, there will be a baby boom nine months from now, and a run on grandparents?

Can I just say no one is smugger right now then me who insisted Larry install a bidet in the master bath five years ago? This is called foresight on steroids. Okay, enough said.

My girl from Back Bay Boston has been working remotely at my kitchen table all week. I know, I know, it’s like a dream come true, only it’s my new reality. She came to participate in an interview for her upcoming wedding and due to the virus, she’s staying an extra week.

The reproductive rate of this virus is extraordinary, I can’t think of anything that multiplies faster, aside from rabbits and dirty dishes.

My son Dante has been staying with us the last few nights because it was easier to sleep at our house than a hotel miles from the next work site. We all ate dinner together and watched a movie as if a decade ago. The next night we sat in the master bedroom, sipping wine, chatting it up with each other. For this, I am overjoyed. No, it’s more than that. I’m euphoric and feel bad about it.

My husband’s company recently closed campus, and is requiring employees to work remotely, so not only is he laying next to me all night, he’s working not twenty feet from the mobile office I’ve made out of my bed. I’ve been marginalized in my own home, as my husband grows a COVID-19 beard, and one by one our cherished institutions are closing. How shall we describe this?

Yes, the sky really is falling!

I have this little game I play when times are tough. I try to imagine what the bad thing is shielding me from or what unexpected good has resulted from the crisis?

Have you played?

It takes practice, but it’s not complicated, and please refrain from keeping score.

It’s an all-out search for the good in the middle of a shitshow, scanning for positives in a stew of negatives, being an affirmist in a defeatist society.

So let’s play the Corona game.

My daughter Kelley says, “this is a win for all dogs because their people are home all day.”

Julie adds, “we couldn’t have done this a decade ago, the technology is allowing us to continue working, and connecting with each other.”

Dante says, “surprisingly our technology is able to keep up with the demand, imagine if the internet went down?”

Me, “we’d have to talk with each other!”

My husband mentions, “there are some good buys out there in the stock market and we solved the traffic problem overnight, not to mention the reduction in pollution and crime.” He’s such an optimist.

Here’s mine, I have a tendency to align myself to these enormous ruts I’ve created in the road of life. You know what I mean? I have my little routine all polished and shined so don’t mess with me! Seriously. Work, writing, wine with Larry, dinner, bed, repeat (Larry adds one more step – whatever), and I better be lakeside by the weekend. We’re an exciting bunch. But all of a sudden I’m unleashed so to speak, although I can’t leave the house, but we’re creating a new paradigm.

Instead of resistance, I’m learning resilience. Not the same.

We should expect that the COVID-19 crisis will change our society in important ways but are they all bad?

We’re developing our resilience for sure. With all this extra time we can learn something new, something that remains even after the dust settles, and we find ourselves in a brave new world.

What skills will be needed? What educational opportunities do you have access to right now?

I’m trying new recipes, learning how to utilize zoom for the benefit of my students, and create lessons that offer engagement instead of checklists. What will this mean for on-line education? Specifically for students who aren’t a good fit for traditional instruction? This might be our one and only opportunity to change the trajectory of modern education in a way that benefits not only our students but modifies the way we actually learn. Total win.

Corona – 0

People – 5

There are lots of positives, much to be grateful for, and most likely things I haven’t considered, but here are a few.

We know what it is and how to test for it. Remember the HIV virus? It took two years to identify because it wasn’t a pandemic and we had to fight for research and treatment.

The situation in China is improving, which means shelter in place works, it’s not a stealth attempt to drive parents insane.

Eighty percent of the cases are mild.

The virus can be wiped clean. Go Kelley.

We’ve improved the air quality overnight! Go out and breathe! It’s extraordinary.

Scientists around the world are working on this cooperatively. We’re closing in on a vaccine and better treatments. Think of all the unexpected things we’re learning about viruses and their transmutable properties, moving medicine forward in record time.

We need to be generous, and by that I mean how do we serve each other, especially our most vulnerable populations. A local grocery store chain is opening from 8-9 am for seniors only so they can shop when the shelves are stocked and not risk being exposed to the general public.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, scared, shutdown – we are all experiencing these same emotions, but together we’ll get through this, in fact, we’ll be wiser if we choose. Thomas Merton says you do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

Best of all is the extra family time spent imprisoned at home, although we’re saving a ton of money on gas, I’m remembering all the annoying habits of my original roommates, like failure to load the dishwasher, change the toilet paper (oh yeah that’s mute), leave wet clothes in the washing machine, the television blaring when I’m sleeping, and the lights on in every room. I’m also remembering how it felt to live together, as a family, sharing our spaces, our lives, our anomalies.

But most important I’m remembering how not to panic.

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