Pandemic lessons

Wendy Hodge

By Wendy Hodge

It’s the beginning of May, and already it feels as if this year has lasted fifteen months. Haven’t we been talking about and reading about and worrying about COVID-19 for a thousand days?? There is much to learn from all this. As I sit here this morning, in the quiet of the early hours, a few things I’ve learned come to mind:
1) There is peace to be found in a garden. The joke in my family has long been that I have the opposite of a green thumb – whatever that may be. But it turns out I can actually plant things and make them grow. And in the planting and the watering and the weeding, there is a contentment and a satisfaction that I can’t get enough of. Of course there is a whole new vocabulary to be learned. Names of flowers that sound like poetry roll off my tongue like a second language. And I actually can picture what each flower looks like as I say it! Phlox, lithodora, salvia, tickweed, ranunculus, amaryllis, anthuriums…. Okay, I threw that last one in there. I have no idea what anthurium looks like. But I bet I can grow it!
2) The heavy metal triangle that you use to measure and mark a straight line is not, in fact, called a triangle. It’s called a square. My best friend tried to explain the logic in that, but I failed to see it. In my mind, it will always be a triangle, so I will have to pause a slight moment while my brain reminds my mouth what to call it. I had a similar problem in third grade when I was awarded a 72-count box of Crayons for winning the spelling bee in my classroom. I had spelled the word “behavior” correctly, feeling equal parts proud and shy to be the center of attention. For anyone who grew up in my generation, you are aware how coveted that giant box of crayons was. Inside that box were wondrous shades like cornflower blue and carnation pink and raw sienna. Olive green was there too, but I strongly disliked that color. Yellow green made me queasy, and tan was just plain boring. But it was silver and gold that gave me fits. It was the names – for some reason, I had selective dyslexia when it came to those two shades. My brain wanted to reverse the names, and so I had to actively pause and make myself remember which word to say. My little girl heart saw this as the price I paid for winning that glorious box of perfectly unused crayons, and I felt it was a fair trade-off.
3) A BLT is infinitely better with avocado slices on it. Our new Sunday morning tradition is to have a BLT and watch an episode of whatever we’re binging on Netflix. I knew I liked avocados, and BLT’s are one of my favorites. But I never thought to combine the two. And now I’m an addict. I think I’m just as addicted to that quiet hour on Sunday, when everyone else is asleep, and the whole day stretches out in front of us like a promise. It’s one of my favorite things.
4) Tiger King is a trashy masterpiece, and I like it. If you’ve never watched this Netflix series, you’ve missed something that’s hard to describe. I can’t, in good conscience, urge you to watch it because you may very well count it as 8 hours of your life you’ll never have back. On the other hand, for someone who is enthralled with other people’s stories, this thing is a gold mine! Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin are opposite sides of the same bizarre coin. Both have such overblown egos that they use people and animals alike to further their own strange causes, all the while living as if rules are not made for them. They are living train wrecks, and so are all the people who surround them. And thanks to non-stop camera footage, we get to see every horrifying, awkward, enthralling moment. From a triple marriage to swingers, from arson and accidental death to outright murder, cameras are there. And I couldn’t look away.
5) There are those who are happiest when others are unhappy. They are the gossips, too cowardly to talk to your face, who will go behind your back and say ugly things. They don’t care if they’re half-truths or entirely false. If it causes someone to think less of you, then they are satisfied. Even Corona can’t slow them down. How miserable they must be. There was a time when this bothered me so much. The thought that others were discussing me and my life in a less than flattering way actually hurt my feelings. But I’ve learned that this behavior is entirely a reflection on them and not on me. The world is huge and wondrous and tragic, and the pettiness of a gossip is less than a blip on the screen. Their words cannot even touch real happiness.
6) A crisis brings out the best in some and the worst in others. I’ve seen people be heroic and sacrifice much. I’ve also seen people be petty and selfish. I’ve read stories of doctors and nurses and lab techs and respiratory therapists who have volunteered weeks of their life and walked away more exhausted than ever before and haunted in ways they couldn’t have imagined. I’ve also been yelled at and cursed at and harassed by patients who won’t tolerate minor inconveniences or changes to their schedule. I’ve heard people cry on the phone when they tell me they’re too scared to leave their house to come see the doctor. And I’ve heard people laugh at the whole situation as if it is a joke. There are people who are balanced and maintain a level head, and there are others who are easily thrown and react with their emotions before they think things through. A pandemic shows us clearly where we all stand on that spectrum. A calm and balanced friend is a real treasure.
My best friend is who I can thank for teaching me all these lessons. He and I have planted flowers and vegetables and herbs and fruits. We’ve torn down ivy and yanked up weeds. Together we’ve built elevated vegetable gardens, a pallet garden for herbs, and a vertical shelving system for flower pots and more herbs. Our next goal is a planter bench. I found the plans online, and we are going to build it entirely ourselves. We eat well and sleep deeply, with achy muscles and sore backs and occasional poison ivy outbreaks. And we laugh, with each other and at ourselves. We see the world around us and applaud the heroes while we avoid the angry and the hateful. We ignore gossips and feel pity for their childish ways. We hope for the best and look forward to a safer future. We see the beauty in every single day. And when the day ends, I stand at the large kitchen window and watch my best friend walk through his yard. He is proud and content, and that makes me happier than I thought I could be.


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