Early in the first week in isolation, Terry and I felt shaken, both by the changes that were going on so quickly, inside our house and in the world, and by new pressures on our marriage.
As a couple, we began our self-isolation (or self-quarantine) on Friday evening, March 13, 2020. For weeks we had been following the news about the spread of the new coronavirus in other countries, and the first reports from the USA. Our government was pooh-poohing the danger. At first Terry was, too. After all, thousands of people die every year from the flu. Surely the news reports were sensationalism, he thought. But I, at least, was getting enough information to stock up on some extra food supplies, mostly bags of dried beans.
In the second week of March, however, in written news, we started seeing detailed analyses of how the virus had spread in other countries and projections of what rate it would soon be spreading in ours, the severity of the crisis depending upon whether or not we took serious measures to control the spread. Some sources urged us to help “flatten the curve. By reducing the rate at which the virus spread, we could lessen the severity of the burden on our health care system.
Terry, now taking the danger more seriously than I, urged me to cancel my trip to California. I prayed about it and still felt drawn to go. But three nights in a row, in the middle of the night, I found myself awake and anxious.
On Wednesday, March 11 the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, saying that the coronavirus epidemic would reach all countries on the globe. The president of our country and his aides were still minimizing the danger, but by Thursday, March 12, some big organizations in the US had decided that stringent measures were necessary. Terry explained to me that if the National Basketball Association had suspended its season and the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled, that meant the danger of mass contagion must be great, since multi-million-dollar businesses would not stop their revenues for anything less than a severe threat. In the Philadelphia area, reports of possible exposure by staff or students at certain schools led to the first school closures. Online we found more information and detailed analysis. Two nearby workshops I was scheduled to facilitate during the second half of March were postponed. I canceled my trip to California.
By Thursday night, March 12, we had read enough to be convinced that it was time for isolation, both to protect ourselves (we are both over 60) and to protect others in case we had already caught the virus (which we couldn’t know because the incubation period without symptoms can be long.) We decided it would be okay to one last time attend our regularly scheduled, sparsely attended Meeting for Prayer and Healing, held at local Chester Meeting. Maintaining large distances between us and refraining from hugs or the laying on of hands, we found ourselves drawn into a deep silence, in prayer. I took a long lingering look at my friends that night as we left the meetinghouse, wondering when we would meet together in person again, and if we would all be together then.
After we got home, we decided we’d do some last outside errands the next day, and then begin our self-isolation. However, many others had also become convinced that same day of the seriousness of the crisis. By 8 am the next morning, stores were running out of cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Terry called me from the parking lot of the nearest large grocery store. He said the lot was jammed with cars and he didn’t have time to shop because he was expected to help out at the home of his best friend, who is ill.
Going online immediately to order cleaning supplies and food, I discovered that even online most disinfectants were sold out, and many types of food were scarce, too. After hours spent that Friday morning shopping online, I stepped out into the sunshine to walk to the pharmacy. The birds were chirping; I heard them more clearly than usual. The world seemed different, but I realized that it was not the world, but I, who had changed dramatically. I had taken in a new understanding of reality; understanding that a pandemic was unfolding that would have serious, painful consequences for our society and for many communities, families, and individuals, including people I know and love.
At our small local pharmacy, there were only a few customers. I waited as they filled my prescription, and meanwhile I bought two small bottles of 70& alcohol (the limit), one small bottle of hand sanitizer, and some sugar-free cough drops. (All of these items had been “Out of Stock” when I tried to order them online that morning). I paid with a credit card and was not eager to touch the plastic pen used by every customer who signed the key pad. I felt awkward and embarrassed as I wrapped the pen in a tissue before signing my name. After leaving the pharmacy, I looked in the windows of the grocery store nearby and decided not to stand in line with the crowds of people congregating with full shopping carts.
Terry spent most of the day with his friend, knowing it would be the last time they’d be together in person for a while. By the time he was ready to attempt another grocery run, he had heard that there were empty shelves in the nearby stores. So he drove out beyond the suburbs until he found a store that still had food (though no toilet paper, bleach, or alcohol wipes).
After Terry and I both arrived home, we showed each other the supplies we’d gathered, pleased with ourselves. Then we began a new, more vigorous round of wiping doorknobs, counters, faucet handles, etc. Terry’s mother had raised her sons to clean very thoroughly, including mopping floors in a certain way. I was brought up by a father who taught us emergency-preparedness. During my elementary and middle school years my father was worried about nuclear bombs, and I’d taken a workshop with the Girl Scouts on creating a family emergency shelter. Terry and I both think the other person is a bit obsessive about the particular areas in which we were trained as children, but on Friday the 13th these were helpful and complementary skills as we began our isolation for a period of time whose duration is unknown.
That first evening, we felt competent. We watched a movie and ate popcorn.
The next morning, however, we quarreled about something minor. That made us realize we were more affected by the pressures of our new situation than we had realized. This was sobering. After all, we had only just begun.
Beginning Our Self-Isolation: What happened as you learned about the pandemic and contemplated ways your life would need to change? What has that experience been like?
© 2020 Marcelle Martin
Do you have a sewing machine? Here’s a way to help out, making DIY masks, helpful for seniors or others until the supply of medical masks becomes adequate. Some suggest putting a washable cloth mask over a medical mask, if you have one, because the cloth mask can be washed. These masks need to be washed and kept dry. There’s a link to research studies of which fabrics make the best filters and are most breathable. https://www.drstreicher.com/dr-streicher-blog/2020/3/a-surgeon-sewing-a-surgical-mask
For Information About Upcoming Online Webinars and Courses with Marcelle Martin, click HERE.
A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.
Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.
Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)