In a Pandemic, Hopes for the Future

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
March 19, 2020

Ready or not, once again history has caught us up in its riptide and carried us out to sea. I suppose I prefer witnessing history being made to the alternative of not witnessing it for whatever reason (being dead springs to mind), but I wish it didn’t strike so abruptly. Each day brings more shocking news and fresh worries. It makes me nostalgic for the overhyped, doomsaying days of Y2K. Because, regardless of what some people have been claiming (and as much as I’d like to believe it), I don’t think this coronavirus is being blown out of proportion. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve been worrying enough. And Glen, who exudes common sense and almost never shares my anxieties, agrees with me. So last week, after a few days of discussing the feasibility and making lists and plans, in the late afternoon of Friday, March 13th, we came home from a shopping trip and went into self-isolation.

Costco was the last stop on our pandemic-prep checklist that day, and the other errands had gone quickly and efficiently. We’d scored the groceries, the liquor and the pharmaceuticals that morning in the nearest small town with an H-E-B grocery, a Walgreens and a Twin Liquors. Yes, the H-E-B was very busy, but nothing like the Austin stores, whose barren shelves were being shown every evening on the news. So with those purchases made, we proceeded into the city.

I was giddy with relief at how easy the day was turning out to be, and even made some foolish remark about how Costco should be “a piece of cake.” After all, I babbled on, Costco’s a big store with plenty of everything! It wasn’t as if we needed much. We already had ample toilet paper and freezers stocked with food. It would be an adventure! Glen warned me that I was being too optimistic. I just laughed. And then we pulled into the Costco parking lot.

There were no spaces left. After circling the lot in futility, Glen drove to the outskirts and parked the truck against a curb. Then we went to join the river of humanity headed for the store’s entrance. Our “adventure” picked up speed when we passed a woman pushing a shopping basket full of food, paper goods and little children. She called to us over her shoulder, “They’re out of carts. You’ll have to get one in the parking lot!” Glen and I looked at each other. Uh-oh.

So Glen followed her to her car, helped unload her groceries while she did the kids, and then returned with her cart. We went into the store.

Much later, we emerged with most of the things we’d come for. No thanks to me, though. We’d been shopping for maybe fifteen minutes when we noticed that the glum-looking people at the end of the frozen vegetable aisle were leaning on their baskets, not shopping. Every so often, they all moved a few inches forward. Oh, dear God. It was the checkout line—a long, long line that snaked around the interior of the store. We’d already excused ourselves to pass through it several times on our way down the aisles, not paying much attention, not realizing what it was.

For a dumbfounded moment I stood open-mouthed, trying to comprehend the magnitude of it. What had happened to our short list of simple errands? The day had been going so well. We didn’t need this nonsense! Then I spiraled into a minor tantrum, insisting that we leave, and wasting valuable shopping time in the process. Glen was unmoved by my dramatics, and eventually I calmed down and we resumed shopping. (Later that day, over cheeseburgers and frozen margaritas—our last restaurant meal for the foreseeable future—he claimed he would have put me in the cart’s child seat if I’d misbehaved any longer. Knowing Glen, he would have.)

But by the time we took our own place in the Costco checkout line, my sense of humor was back and so was the spirit of adventure, which many of the pandemic preppers waiting with us seemed to share. Chatting and laughing with them made the time in line fly by. Surprisingly, it turned out to be fun.

I’m grateful we had that experience, ending the day on a good note of joking and camaraderie, enjoying the company of other human beings. Now it’s nearly a week later. We have all the time in the world, and no place to go. The news grows more alarming. Each day we hear of more closings and cancellations as retailers, schools, libraries, sporting events and municipal offices shut down. Television shows us empty restaurants and city streets that look like movie sets fallen into disuse. Always, there are deaths to report. Many people besides us are self-isolating, taking seriously the warnings that we must “flatten the curve.” Will it have the desired effect? Can we relieve what could otherwise turn into an insupportable burden on the U.S. health care system? Or will we end up like Italy? And then there’s the economy to worry about. The stock market’s cratering scares me more than the virus does.

A year or two from now, what kind of world will we wake up to? Those of us who are still here to wake? I hope with all my heart that Glen and I can wake up to the sight of each other, to our cows grazing in the pasture, to the knowledge that everyone dear to us came through the nightmare unscathed. I hope for the people who made our trip to Costco a little better, too. Starting with the woman who warned us about the lack of shopping carts. Once Glen had loaded her purchases into her car, she asked to know his name. This question, from a stranger in a meeting of mere moments, took him by surprise, but he told her. And she said, “Thank you, Glen.”

May all of you stay safe and well.

10 comments on “In a Pandemic, Hopes for the Future”

  1. This captures my feelings exactly. Mark and I are isolating at home with the pets, and I'm grateful for what we have-- each other, a nice home, jobs we won't lose, cuddly pets, and no children to have to entertain/ educate/ keep safe during all this. But every day I spiral in and out of panic and calm. I'm feeling rather calm right now. I think reading your post helped. 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing the experience you and Mark are having, Carie. Every day I vow that I won't read the news or watch it more than once, and every day I break that vow. A piece about a 90-year-old woman beating the virus will uplift me, and a piece about a 40-something-year-old in critical condition and on a ventilator will bring me down. I was starting to feel the onset of panic again until I read your comment. Gratitude is very calming. Thank you for reminding me of that!

  2. If you heed my advice and stop trying to leave the house to get a pedicure, we will certainly be here when the pandemic passes. =P

    1. Oh, Katie, you crack me up! Thank you, darling, you’ve given me a good laugh. Be assured that I’m not going anywhere! 😁

  3. I just love your first sentence about the rip tide! it's such a perfect description - turbulence, and force.
    And I love your Costco story, because we humans rescue each other all the time without thinking much about it. Whether helping someone with groceries, or having my sour dark outlook shifted by friendly, funny strangers in a line, or giving our beloved family and friends some space, patience and understanding while they have a tantrum in a grocery store. It's all grace.
    So many people are working on this problem, trying to find solutions. The riptide will turn soon, I bet.
    Meantime, yay for enjoying peace at home, and for reading lovely blog posts. Thank you for your words, Susan. Y'all be well.

    1. Oh, Claire, we do rescue each other, don’t we? That is our highest purpose. I love you, my friend. Thank you for your perception and your wisdom. Y’all be well, too!

  4. A river of humanity and the humane in your ever-lovely blog, Susan. Your words always carry me along on a smooth ride, the rapids of varying levels survivable. And the calm evoked by your beautiful photo, the peace in it, and the hope in your closing.... the imparted faith in our re-opening..., for all that, I thank you! Love to you, Glen, Lucy, Phoebe, and moo-ers . <3

    1. Thank you, Claire, and thank you for reading! I’m so glad that you find the peaceful possibilities in it. We have no other choice, I think. Love to you and Frank and Sophie, too! ❤️

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