Pandemic Times by Lynn Bechtel

Lynn Bechtel is a writer, editor, gardener, reader, and novice meditator. She grew up in Ohio but has lived in New England for most of her adult life. She writes essays and blogs at Lynn lives in Hampshire county and is a Straw Dog member.

Pandemic Times

“I feel like I’m living in Groundhog Day,” a friend complains. I nod, thinking of my days and their endless rhythm—morning coffee on the porch, the crossword puzzle and social media tour, a walk in the woods, and then the long pale slate of the day stretching before me. Will I write? Clean the fridge? Do some laundry? Read one of the several books I have in progress? The cat whines at me, the minutes tick, tick, tick by and then it’s late afternoon. I take my book into the yard and read a few pages before pausing to watch a hummingbird feast at the monarda.

Last night my stomach tightened as threats piled up. Always, in the background, the ongoing threat of this virus—we keep an eye on the data, parsing each rise in case numbers. Are things getting bad here again? we ask.

Part of me wants to edge back into a safe shell, pull my house around me, but oh, these sweet, small, summer tastes of freedom have been delicious: a shared meal, a friend’s face six feet away rather than in a pixelated box, a friend’s laugh vibrating through shared air.

Last night the immediate threat was from a storm blowing through. I sat on the porch eating pasta and pesto as the sky darkened and social media shouted alarms. When the UMass siren roared, I moved inside and, as the warnings accumulated, headed to the basement. I stood at the bottom of the stairs cajoling the cat to follow. “You’ll end up in a tree in Sunderland,” I warned as he wandered off.

But I didn’t really believe we’d get hit by the whirling air mass. We rarely get the brunt of storms—something about the configuration of the hills, the lay of the land.

This bubble of invincibility can be dangerous. I don’t really believe the tornado will touch down here. I don’t really believe I’ll get this virus. I don’t really believe that you, standing next to me at the deli counter, are shedding dangerous particles.

And yet fear pokes out from its primal hiding place. I hear “tornado” and remember storms from my midwestern childhood, remember—and understand—my mother’s anxiety whenever the wind intensified. I think “virus” and recoil slightly from a friend who steps too close, turn my head abruptly away, adjust my mask.

Pandemic times. Sometimes all I can see are virus-laden days stretching endlessly and the specter of winter’s chill and dark bringing a return of isolation. But for now, I revel in this bright summer day. Blueberries are ripening on the bush behind the house—I pluck small handfuls whenever I stroll the yard. Later, I’ll set chairs in an open circle for a late afternoon gathering of friends. We’ll laugh, tell jokes and stories, share worries, spin a web of love and care to see us through the coming days.