When I walk into Aldi, my favorite grocery store, I meet a lady walking out. She is carrying one item. “Good luck, people,” she says, just loudly enough to be heard, but quietly enough to be ignored if desired. “There is not much in there.”
After that, I am relieved to see that most of the things I want are, in fact, there. Plenty of fresh produce. Plain chips. Barbecue sauce and peanut butter and string cheese. Milk – only whole milk, but milk. Eggs. I am not exactly emergency shopping, but also I do not want to head into an uncertain week with my fridge as near depletion as it currently is. The canned goods aisle has taken a pretty hard hit, but that is okay, and the Shut Up Noodles are long gone. No paper products to speak of. I am not buying toilet paper; we can always use leaves.
The cashiers are still asking people “Did you find everything you need?” but looking surprised if they say, “Yes.”
Basically the thing that scares me the most about COVID-19 is that my husband is more concerned than I am. This is the first time that has ever happened in the Zook universe as we know it.
Usually when I hypothesize and hyperventilate, he takes me in his arms and says something reassuring, about the world not being that crazy, and about things going on. This time, I float a random worry off the top of my head and he says quietly, “I’ve thought of that.” He does not say all he is thinking. And he still takes me in his arms; we are not elbow bumping. For these graces I am thankful.
I go to Walmart next, and take a photo of the Cough & Cold aisle in the pharmacy.
An acquaintance of mine strikes up a conversation, lays her hand on my shoulder and says Do not fear this coronavirus. All we need to do is eat jalapeños to keep the mucus flowing. That’s all. It’s better than the flu. She talks at length, becomes louder and increasingly excited until I finally slip away. Three aisles away, I can hear her still holding forth, bellowing to random strangers passing by her. “Buy jalapeños, people. It’s not that hard.” A Walmart associate who just left her is speaking very quietly into his radio.
Sometimes the word I pick to describe it is funny, but that is a bad word when people I don’t know are dying. Surreal. That is better. The world has gone mad, all at once and together. We are strangely unified, and strangely unmade.
Most people I meet in town this night are still able to smile, and relax a little when I speak to them. The only aisle where I find unspoken panic is in the canned goods aisle, again, where I stop to check for the Noodles That Shall Not Be Named. All flavors are gone but one shrimp-chili-burn-your-mouth kind. An old woman is pushing a shopping cart with forty or fifty cans of vegetables stacked neatly inside. I stand thinking, and in the low undertone of decision making and the rustle, I can hear the silent rising terror. When I step out of the aisle, it is gone.
Maybe I should speak peace to the populace, but I do not want to be the jalapeño heckler, peddling my beliefs and shoving the aromas up people’s sinuses. My style is one-on-one: to thank the shelf stockers for cleaning up after the masses. To ask if they are doing okay.
I do not buy peppers, of any heat spectrum.
I find almond bark for the leprechaun bait this weekend, and Adidas cologne spray for my boys. Tide detergent. Rice Chex. Good apples. I am reassured to find that no one else was stocking up on Take 5’s in case the world does end, and they were on my list because my daughter and I just shared the last one, so I buy a bag and I know I have that, at least. Now we are prepared.
I deal with most concerns by laughing in public, and whispering all my fears and sins against my husband’s shoulder in private.
I do not mean the earth should not be gone mad in the face of pandemic, that concern is unmerited. I mean I can hardly believe that we are at this place, that we have this awful kind of thing to think of. A steep price for an ultra-connected world.
A few weeks ago, I read the novel Station Eleven just as the virus was starting to gather speed. This is the best time possible to read the book, if you are still able to find it ironic and farfetched. Not so good if you are personally affected. The plot centers around a pandemic that destroys most of the world’s population – and hence, technology and culture.
You probably are hoping I will have words of wisdom for you at the end of this post, but I do not have any of my own.
I have the words of my friend M, who says,
“The frantic people are those who are desperately dependent on their incomes, who have breakfast and lunch provided at school and who go through the drive-through for dinner. They don’t have enough food in the house for two days. Most of us have enough for what – a month? with our canned goods and our freezers? And we have our friends; we have each other. Every time we leave our driveways, we should be praying for the Holy Spirit’s peace and wisdom, that we can bring Him into the situations we encounter, and that His presence in us can be a calm in our world.”
I do not have words of my own, but we have the Word, and it is always apples of gold in pictures of silver. It says,
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I pray peace and health for you in Christ.
Station Eleven is not what I would call a brilliant book, but it is interesting and timely. Plenty of awful moments. Hope. Worth reading, though you might not like that sex occurs (non-graphically) and what my (other) friend M calls “the obligatory gay couple.” I do not know if she would like to be quoted on this and so I am Almost hat-tipping her but Not Quite.
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What are you thinking about these days?