We are in the middle of a global outbreak.
We know this, of course.
But there are moments we find ourselves struck by the ordinary-ness, the life that still goes on despite a virus affecting the world. On a walk around the neighborhood, we admire the hummingbirds and the bees. A butterfly flits by. Ants scurry in the crevices of the sidewalk, business as usual. Puffy clouds shift in the sky. Spring is in full session, ushering us out of winter, doing its spring-ly duty. “Don’t you know?” we want to say to it, shaking our fists.“
The balance between the ordinary and un-ordinary
Don’t you realize what’s going on?” We are grateful for this, the ordinary-ness, but we are simultaneously perplexed. How to balance these two places we now hover between, the one in which crisis is at hand and the one that holds the dishes in our sinks, the piles of laundry on our couches and the strange phenomenon of a guy called Tiger King?
Years ago, my friend expressed her disillusionment after her father passed away. “It’s so strange,” she said. “The day after he died, I found myself wandering into a McDonalds because I craved a cheeseburger. There I stood, staring at the menu and the kids eating their Happy Meals, and I thought to myself, no one knows that my father has just passed away.” The ordinary, the un-ordinary, and the places in between.
Cheeseburgers and death.
Joan Didion, in her wonderful book The Year of Magical Thinking, also spoke of cheeseburgers. She found herself eating one on an emergency helicopter trip for her daughter who had fallen into a coma after an unusual illness. This, in the midst of Joan losing her husband to a heart attack one very ordinary evening around dinnertime.
The ordinary, the un-ordinary. How to sort it all out?
You can grieve a friend and need to stock up on eggs at the same time
A week before the pandemic crisis rose, I lost a very dear friend. On that day, I found myself needing to go to the store to stock up on bread and eggs. I had planned to go to yoga, make chicken tacos and wash my hair. A pile of laundry sat at my feet. A pressing email sat in my inbox, no longer very pressing. What a strange thing, I thought, to need bread and eggs and also to be grieving my friend.
The day I discovered, at 19, I was pregnant and unwed, I stood in the kitchen of my tiny, $395/month apartment, staring into another almost empty fridge. The pregnancy test had cost nearly ten dollars, the equivalent of four fast food burritos I could have purchased to tide me over until next payday. I was alone, very much afraid, and yet in need of lunch. Some dirty dishes sat in the sink, my twin-sized bed unmade in the other room, my junior college study notes on the floor.
The ordinary, the un-ordinary, and the in between.
In the weeks following 9/11, we scrambled with our feelings, vacillating between anger, confusion and fear. Life sat on hold, suspended in time, as we collectively held our breath. Would we be okay? Would we not? Was it okay to laugh again, to exercise, to work in our gardens, to make our Christmas lists, sew a Halloween costume, plan the Thanksgiving menu?
We know this in between place
This is where we find ourselves now, again. We know this place, though we may not recognize it. We have done this before. We know how to live in the in between, the places between the hard and the good, the happy and the sad, the weird and the normal, the ordinary and the very un-ordinary.
We’ve felt it at church, singing hymns and reading our Bibles while also remembering the cellulite under our skirts and trying to recall if we fed the dog before we left the house. We’ve felt it at work, typing out important reports while realizing that yes, we probably should not have purchased that certain brand of shaving cream because it has most definitely caused the rash. We’ve felt it at parties, drinking our champagne in our best cocktail attire while worrying, between small talk and dancing, that we might have food in our teeth, or our son might be flunking algebra, or our daughter might be sleeping with her boyfriend, or we might be out of milk.
This time, the chasm is bigger. This time, we feel it in our breaths, our bodies, our hearts. We feel scared, and rightfully so. The scared is a capital S this time, with some exclamation points. We feel angry, with a capital A. We are up and down, all around, sometimes sinking watching the news and sometimes laughing at stupid memes. Are both okay, we wonder? And the answer, we think, is yes.
We brush our teeth, wash our hair some days, wonder if we should bother wearing our retainer still. We read our Bible, we swear a little under our breaths, and wonder again, are both okay? The answer, we think, is yes. We drink wine, then a green smoothie, then follow that with some dark chocolate or potato chips. We say our prayers, pay our bills, walk the dog, then Google symptoms of the virus.
Does our throat feel scratchy? Did we wash our hands for 20 seconds, or did we slack off that one time and stop at ten? Suddenly, what we thought we knew we don’t know if we know anymore. Three weeks ago, we felt smart, certain, showered. Now, we’re neurotic and sad. Now, we don’t know what to think. What rules apply anymore?
In times like this, with the world turned upside down, we can be sure of one thing. We can live in the in between, and yes, that is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. There is no other way. We can grieve and pray and be sad, and then we can play Scrabble or Chess. We can scream and cry and yell, and then we can eat ice cream. We can fret over lost jobs and health, and then we can fold some laundry. We need no further reminder of this, the ordinary and the un-ordinary, than simply stepping outside and staring into the sky.
Nature takes no breaks. Neither does God. So we can be sure of that. We can live in both places at once, uncomfortably sometimes, unbearably other times. Perhaps, even on rare days, we can live contentedly in the cracks between the ordinary the un-ordinary.
Perhaps this was where we were meant to live all along.
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Karen Koczwara is a freelance writer, a California native, and a mother to four amazing teens and one small dog with social anxiety. In this time of uncertainty, She’s been writing to comfort herself and the humans around her as we collectively figure this thing called life out.