Useless

I make another coffee and check to see if there is anything new on Facebook since I last looked, an hour ago. I contemplate looking at my To Do list, but know that all that is left there are jewels like “e-mail recipes” and “sort box of office supplies.” Without in any way condoning the stupidity of their actions, I can slightly empathize with the restless boredom that might be part of the motivation of the anti-quarantine protesters.

I read a blog from an ICU nurse who has gone to New Jersey to help and I cry. I listen on the radio to a man who left finance and went back to his previous career as an aide, to help with the crisis in Quebec long-term care homes. I used to work as an ambulance attendant, but it’s been 25 years since my last shift. My training, even if I remembered, would be out of date.

And let’s face it— I’m too old. Despite all the brave talk of 60 as the new 40, I am considered high risk. There are even special shopping hours for me in many stores. At the homeless shelter, they will take my donations of clothing and money, but they are nervous to see me there, even wearing a mask.

When people asked if I was retired I would say, “I’m not sure.” I had recently applied for a Teacher-on-Call position and had been hired, the same week that the schools were all shut down. Now I see my teacher friends struggling with the transition to on-line learning, creating new resources, worrying about the mental health of their students, and I miss it. I miss the sense of purpose, the feeling that I was making a difference in the lives of young people.

I am useless.

I spend my days on selfish, meaningless activities. I read. I write. I watch Netflix and play Candy Crush for much too long. I think about what to cook and go for walks, carefully staying 6 feet away from other people. I contemplate cutting my own hair.

Ahh, where would I be without Facebook?

I spend my nights not sleeping well. At 3 am, I wonder if my cough is more than just the bronchitis I used to be prone to developing. I consider what I have seen online that day: new and frightening ways this virus affects the body; younger people debating the merits of sacrificing the unproductive old to save the economy. I think of my ex-husband and mistakes I have made in my life.

I remember my mother. We used to say she was more comfortable doing for than being with, and I am more like her than I care to admit. For most of my life I have felt that my value was in what I did, not who I was. “Can’t you just sit down?” my children’s father would ask me, and I would— but before long, I would see something that needed attending to and I would be off again. I defined myself by what I did for others: mother, daughter, wife, teacher.

Much of my journey for the last years has been about discovering and redefining who I am. As my friend Crosbie said, years before I was willing to listen, when the doing stops (and it will), who is left? I watched my aging mother battle to keep her central place in the family, her only sphere of influence, fighting to not be left behind in the backwaters of irrelevance. She did not concede defeat until a few years before she died, and I like to think that once she let go she found peace and a new relationship with her daughters.

My life was all about travel for the last year and that has all stopped, so my main distraction is gone. Like so many others in isolation, those of us who are not deemed essential workers, nor twice as busy with young children, I have much too much time to contemplate uncomfortable questions. I must look without flinching at growing old.

This quarantine may have stopped the doing, but this is not the end. There will be more travels, visits with friends, and long, long hugs with family. So if you find yourself in dark and uncomfortable places in your isolation, remember that one day it will be over.

But while we are here, perhaps there is something useful we can do. Without distraction and busyness, we can contemplate questions that most of us rarely give more than a cursory thought or a trite answer: Who am I? What is important to me? What could the world look like, if it was a better place? What could I do to help that dream come closer?

Brave travels on your journeys, whether they be out in the world or inside your own head and heart.

The blog post that made me cry was by Kristen Martins. It is an account of her day in a makeshift ICU in a hard hit area. It is well worth reading, (Find it here)

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