The Optimist

A few months ago, when the world descended into the pandemic realm, I believed I could be a beacon of light in the COVID-19 world.

Yes, among the fear and anxiety of shuttered businesses and deaths, I would persevere and remind others and myself that people had lived in dark times before and survived, and in later years, thrived, and at some point, they found joy in life again.  With my last post, which was meant to be part of a series of positive posts in a shadowy dark world, I wanted to be the person who remained optimistic and hopeful.

How quickly I was crushed. My fingers every morning would frantically swipe through news headlines that showed mounting cases that were then followed by rapidly accumulating deaths. Obsessively, every morning, I clicked on the world data and checked each country to see if the infection rate was slowing, hoping each morning, and multiple times in the day that the numbers would descend as quickly as they had accelerated. I wished for a quick death of COVID-19—either through social distancing and self-isolation—or praying that high temperatures might kill it. (Yes, I wanted to believe that theory too, which has since been, from what I’ve read, been debunked by science.)

Here we are months later, and we’ve slowed the spread of it. But nearly every day there are new cases in most countries and the death toll climbs. And the fear, the concern about what could happen, haunts me. So, I’ll wear a mask whenever I go out to the grocery store to protect others as I scramble down aisles to collect the items on my list.  

A simple grocery run, has turned into some epic battle with a mask and hand sanitizer odyssey. Something as simple as dropping an apple on the grocery store floor will allow me to come up with at least three different options on how to correct the problem. With each choice though, my mind will conduct a risk assessment for each decision. Some options include:

Option 1: Place the apple back with the rest of the apples. Then, I’ll realize, no, I can’t do that.  Because there’s a chance that someone may have had COVID-19 stuck to their shoe, stepped right in that exact spot, and now the little Macintosh that I’ll place back on the shelf, may get picked up and taken home by another shopper, and they will get COVID-19 because they missed a spot when they cleaned the apple. The unknown shopper in my horror movie will become sick. And I will be responsible.

Option 2: I can take the red apple with me. Except then there’s a risk of getting COVID-19 on my hands if the apple has the virus on it, and if I touch my steering wheel, and forget to clean my car…. Well, now I have a COVID-19 trail to clean that’s draped on my hands, on doorknobs, and oh god, if I touch my face, I can become an asymptomatic carrier that can kill my closest family members, not to mention, total strangers! Because now I might be the nose-dripping from the cold, one-time allergy sneezing COVID-19 girl who doesn’t know it, and I’ve left nose drips on the sidewalk that got glued to someone’s shoe and an unsuspecting neighbor will carry it into their home. 

Option 3: Leave Mr. Apple on the ground. Of course, that will make me look like a jerk to fellow shoppers and to the sleep-deprived, ten times more stressed out grocery clerks, who have had to deal with customer’s temper tantrums about not having bread flour in the store in eight weeks. (Okay, that was me. However, my poor husband, was the only person who had to deal with me snarling about hoarders. Recently, I found out at least in Canada, it’s not a hoarding problem. Oops, my bad.)

Those are my top three scenarios. If I think about it long enough, I’m sure my brain can come up with other ways how one small, free-spirited piece of fruit, can kill everyone in my neighborhood.     

I promise you, that’s how my mind plays things out.  When the virus came to Canada, I thought that if I did everything right, protected the people I loved, and everyone did the same, we could escape the virus (mostly). I thought it would be eight weeks, COVID-19 would be dead, and we would return to the life we had before.

What I didn’t expect, and didn’t anticipate, was the overwhelming grief I felt when I watched the news that showed the death toll mounting around the world. Every country was impacted, and every day, the number of cases climbed. When a Navy hospital ship arrived in New York to house the influx of patients and a convention center was converted for the same purpose, I was stunned, and my mind went blank. Numbness, consumed me.

In Canada, our long-term care facilities, that houses the most vulnerable in our population, were and continue to be the epicenter with the most casualties.  The absolute failure to protect seniors from COVID-19, and then the negligence in caring for them after they contracted the illness, highlights our systemic ineptness in caring for the elderly. 

It turns out I’m not the ray of sunshine I thought I would be for others. I’m more along the lines of:  If someone falls, I’m falling with them. It’s been a struggle. I have many days when I’m emotional and hopeless. Even as the cases diminish, I’m terrified of a second wave that might be more deadly than the first because everyone’s exhausted from the last three months of stress. And I worry about this, even as we wait to be released from the remaining restrictions that were ordered by the government in mid-March.

I accept I’m weaker than I once believed. At the same time, I’m still hopeful of a future that doesn’t include forbidden hugs, unauthorized shared drinks and meals with family and friends, and a time where I can say, “Hello,” to my neighbor, Jennifer, where I don’t have to stand six feet away from her.

As for those uplifting posts? Sorry, I just can’t do it right now. That’s okay, though. I’ll wait. Someday, maybe even sometime soon, I can write something more uplifting—perhaps, what it was like to take my mother out for dinner again.

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