Well, we made it to Easter.
Often, when I think of Easter, I think of rebirth – in short, my immediate thought is a beginning. Then, inevitably creeping in, is the realization that an ending of some sort preceded. The stone had to be rolled in front of the tomb in order to be rolled away.
During all this (whatever this is), there have been stories and experiences of loss brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak that were difficult to fathom even a month ago. The obvious, and most tragic loss, is the loss of life from the virus, all of which has been stunning and shocking to many of us. It helps me to stay focused on what is happening locally and across the state, as opposed to taking in the world’s sorrows over this pandemic. I try to limit my consumption of national news as well. Though I don’t doubt his sincerity, watching news anchor Lester Holt appear to break through the fourth wall of my television and tell me to “stay safe” (or some version of this) makes me feel both comforted and unnerved. I “fix” these uncomfortable feelings by eating something salty and then sweet because I’m already home and food is (fortunately) readily available. Let’s be honest, did anyone stock up on healthy snacks prior to the stay-at-home order? Good luck fixing whatever this is with kale chips. When it comes to a variety of potato chips, my pantry looks like I’m organizing a church fundraiser or a concession stand for youth league baseball.
I joke about potato chips (and kale) to distract from being unable to wrap my head around needing a mask to shop for cat litter or laundry detergent. I make a joke because if I didn’t, I’d spend too much time worrying and probably sending sympathy cards to Lester Holt. I would write him, “you stay safe, as well.” Is anyone doing this for him? I’m sure he has feelings, too. Journalists are human beings putting a period on that sentence as well as capitalizing the first word to begin their story, which is really someone else’s story on loan to us. For those of us behind a keyboard, it’s not hard to empathize and be affected by the losses we report on to varying degrees. Though it’s not appropriate to talk about them now or here, they are there for us, too. We are human just like you, dear reader.
The “endings” this virus has brought about goes beyond illness. Many of our friends, neighbors and family members have lost jobs. Many businesses and employees have shuttered into a purgatory, awaiting guidance on government stimulus programs and “what now?” Even more overwhelming is the question, “what then?” Journalism is not immune to the losses suffered on Main Street. Just like everyone else, media outlets are modifying and consolidating resources, riding this thing out. All the while trying to inform our communities to the best of our “essential” abilities in unique circumstances, to say the least.
I also keep asking myself, “what’s next?” In the 17 years I’ve been in journalism, I couldn’t even guess at the number of obituaries I’ve processed. However, at no point prior to the outbreak, did I process one which contained a boilerplate disclaimer that apologetically states, in some form, “new rules” concerning the grieving process being interrupted until a later time; a time when it is deemed safe to mourn, in public. This is through no fault of the funeral homes and certainly no fault of the families. These are “the rules” right now during a time when people’s lives are literally at stake. The disclaimer doesn’t stop the grief process but I have to wonder the effects of this detour on those left behind? This certainly puts complaining about missed vacations, or being bored, or internet connectivity issues, into perspective, doesn’t it? Read the obituaries which have been printed lately. The dead didn’t have to die from COVID-19 to be affected.
A famous saying from the late (Mister) Fred Rogers, (and I’m paraphrasing) basically suggests people “look for the helpers” in times of crisis. Maybe we should all evaluate how to be one of those helpers? A previous column explained my Nannie Margaret’s definition of being helpful. When someone dies, it’s customary to send flowers which is a thoughtful gesture. Though Nannie enjoyed her flowers (particularly red geraniums), to her, the ultimate expression of being useful was sending a ham. Ham could feed people long after flowers wilted. Ham could be fried; put on bread; cooked in a pot of beans. The possibilities are endless. Be useful like a ham, this was her unspoken motto. What is your version of “ham?” Maybe that is the real question to ponder in these uncertain days.
Speaking of ham, this circles us back around to Easter. This Easter doesn’t feel like a “normal” Easter but it certainly has the theme of “hope” we are all clinging to, Christian or not; hope that life will reset into a better, safer space; a space where you don’t “Lysol” the bottom of your shoes when you return home from being “out there.”
Though the egg hunts may be virtual or done six-feet apart this year, happy hunting readers. I hope you find what you’re looking for, especially if it’s a ham. Someone “out there” can no doubt use one.