Life in a Pandemic

One of the things I’ve noticed about my neighborhood’s reaction to our stay in place orders is that both kids and adults are chalking the sidewalks. It’s the first time anyone has ever done this here and I like the gesture. It reminds me of the sort of collective neighborliness of the Portland City Repair movement.

With time on their hands people are de-cluttering, deciding which objects are important in their lives and which ones are not. One of my neighbors set up a temporary rack to give away clothes.

And our neighborhood’s little library is overflowing with books. Someone even put some rolls of toilet paper and rubber gloves in the box.

At the same time, it’s easy for comfortable people like me to get isolated and out of touch with what many in the world, facing sickness and financial uncertainty, must be going through.

Pope Francis had a reminder tweet for those of us in the comfortable class:

Responding to this crisis responsibly is an act of solidarity with other people, particularly with the elderly. We’re sheltering in place not to protect ourselves but to protect the vulnerable. Many people are also still working, risking their lives and the lives of their families to bring us comfortable folks our food and electricity and treat us if we get sick. Then there’s families with young kids at home wondering how they are going to hold down jobs while providing 24/7 childcare and unexpected homeschooling.

A callous disregard for the elderly (open up soon to save the economy!) shouldn’t be surprising in a culture that values individualism and the cultivation of a personal entrepreneurial self while, at the same time, not providing enough support to people who now can’t work. Insidiously, many who have legitimate concerns about not being able to work also are victims of an ideology that says it’s lazy to accept help. We have plenty of resources in the developed world but we have a system that can’t seem to put things on hold when our survival depends on it.

The elites don’t help matters with cringy responses like this:

And this:

I’ve also noticed a subtle media bias towards coverage of the folks who are comfortably sheltering in place like me. It’s not surprising. Most journalists, writers and podcasters are more likely to be sitting at home so it’s not surprising that we don’t hear as much about what life is like for those who live in fear and uncertainty.

We don’t know what the future holds. There are simply too many variables to know what will happen in the coming months. Will we have another wave infections? Will governments bail out corporations or individuals? Will we have a recession or depression? Will there be a revived interest in urban homesteading or will we go back to shopping and consuming? I’m wary of suggesting a silver lining in this crisis. For many, around the world, it will just be awful.

I’m curious how you, our readers, are doing? Leave a comment and let us know what your situation is and your thoughts about the future.

Leave a comment


  1. If you are fearful, stay home. In quarantines you quarantine the ill, not the well.
    Not only is this wiping out our economy and putting millions out of work, it is causing a lot of emotional distress. Suicide, emotional breakdowns, rapes, domestic violence, child molestation, depression and things that are going to play upon emotional health for a lifetime. People want to have a rosy picture of families at home playing games and having ‘family time’ together. Most of the time they are getting on each other’s nerves as they try to stay occupied while being out of work. Plus keeping people sequestered in their homes without proper exercise or sunlight is going to lower a lot of people’s immune systems. More illness when they are finally ‘let out.’
    OK you asked for opinions..this is mine. I am a very senior citizen with a decent immune system but I do not see the same around me and I think that if people are so terrified, they should just stay home.

  2. Life is surprisingly focused on the present right now, with no travel, events, concerts or get-togethers with friends on the calendar. Every day is just another day, and I consider myself lucky to be able to say that when so many are facing unemployment or worse, illness. I think we are all in the eye of a storm right now, and once we come out the other side things are going to look completely different than they did before. Will most movie theaters, concert venues, restaurants, and tourism destinations be able to stay in business if you can only accommodate enough customers that they’re comfortably six feet apart? Will we all be wearing masks for the next year to 18 months? Will people want to get on crowded airplanes next Thanksgiving and Christmas to travel to family? We will see. I think we’re going to see a huge shift in how we live.

  3. “When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always ‘hid’ the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.” Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

  4. I am probably an introvert and perfectly happy being able to do the things I do already. Cooking, gardening, reading, crafting. I am making an effort to check up on my senior friends to see if they need anything but usually they just need to talk and share some laughs. It will be interesting to see what all this brings about and how the world will change. And Pope Francis is right in being concerned about the ones who are going to be left behind and whose lives will be changed for the worse. He is a wise man. Let’s hope we will all be kinder to one another.
    BTW I enjoyed seeing the chalk work and how everyone is managing there.

  5. There will certainly be more waves of infections. Where I live in Brooklyn, we currently have a bit more than half of people wearing masks, which is…depressing. Many people are jogging and riding bikes without masks, zooming past just inches from others. People going out “just” to walk the dog without a mask. And this is during the peak in a hotspot. So, it seems that people are really not taking their own role seriously enough. Our culture is so individualistic and we are so bad at making people pay for their negative externalities, I don’t think this virus will cause that to change.

    I agree with Diane that many businesses will not be sustainable in a socially distanced future. Certainly not in NYC where density and volume are an essential part of many business models, and real estate prices will not fall quickly enough to allow financial viability (and our tax laws already make empty storefronts “valuable” to real estate owners).

    I think we are in for a slog, at least in NYC, and I am glad I am a natural homebody. Multiple years, and then things go back to “normal,” and in the meantime I get to enjoy knitting, container gardening, and the like. I am repulsed/enraged by the people currently writing about how we should all be optimistic because they did some armchair analysis of (downward biased, inaccurate) medical data. Wishful thinking is not helpful. Today I read an article discussing a stoic approach, and it met me right where I was. I think it is time for me to do some reading.

    And to anonymous, who commented above: in a pandemic, those who are most fearful live longest.

    • Amen, sister! Truly gag-worthy. The Arizona Cardinals picture is even worse. It’s just so . . . empty. I’ll take my living room view any day – even if it just looks out on my backyard that needs a little work. (My next door neighbors have a kayak by their barn so maybe that counts as a yacht.)

  6. My spouse has their full-time job, I have my 30hrs/week science job, but I lost my other job at the Y. We have a small yard and a preschool-age kid. Juggling childcare and work in very intense shifts. Fortunately we live in a smallish midwestern city where the pop. density allows for biking to the arboretum mid-day weekdays–very few people there then and we can get safe exercise/nature time.
    I’m grateful for the nice weather now and for the next few months. Thinking of next winter makes me nervous. Will my spouse still have work? What will the kids first year of school be? What things can we plan for now, to keep us safely occupied and sane when the weather keeps us inside for long dreary stretches?
    My parents live 700 miles away and I cry every time I wonder how long it’ll be until I can hug my mom again.

    There’s lots of great chalking in our neighborhood. Jokes, hopscotch, obstacle courses, drawings… many people in our community are working to make things bearable on a lot of levels. Again though I worry about what’ll happen in the fall, even in this community: COVID round 2, job losses, more hoarding and scarcity, deeper and wider economic/health chasms between people?

  7. Up until March, I was employed at a hotel. I loved my job – meeting guests, great co-workers, decent pay. All gone now. I doubt I will be going back to that job anytime soon. I am scrambling to find another job, since it is extremely difficult to even apply for unemployment. My application is finally in, but it’s uncertain when I will actually see the benefits. Meanwhile, I am doing whatever I can to stay healthy and sane. Fortunately, I was able to save some money while I was working and I have no debts, so that is a great relief. I do my best to remember my grandparents and parents, who survived the Great Depression and went on with their lives (albeit in very different settings than their pre-Depression lives.) Sadly, we as a culture have lost many of those survival tactics, but I think it is quite possible than many of us (thanks to this excellent blog and many others like it) are finding that we, too, can survive this and maybe, just maybe, actually thrive. We must try. (Oh, and the picture of the guy in the Arizona Cardinals’ “War Room” lounging in front of the TV is just bloody soul-destroying. I’d much, MUCH rather be in my living room!) P.S. Your picture of the Little Free Library is awesome. We have a few where I live and I love them. They are one of those things that just make me so happy.

  8. My partner and I are pretty much homebodies anyway so this hasn’t been too much of a stretch for us. We live in a rural area on a large piece of wooded property so we can get out and garden, walk, cloudspot, etc., as much as we like. Also the weather here has been beautiful. We are constantly aware of how lucky we are. But we do miss time spent with close friends and family. My daughter lives in Brooklyn so that’s a constant reality check of how bad things can get, although she, her partner and daughter are safe at home in their apartment. The nearest town to us of any size is a small college town where I work part time in a real estate office. The two colleges are the economic backbone of the area so the town is a ghost town these days. And all the small business are having a really hard time. I’ve been trying to support the locals as much as possible through ordering from them online, buying gift cards, getting curbside take-out, etc. And I miss our library!!

  9. I have decided to retire. I am a nurse and am appalled at the response to this pandemic from the lack of leadership , supplies and deliberately instigated climate of misinformation fear and disdain of science. Anonymous please note there are asymptomatic carriers hence the reason for quarantining all. I hope some good comes out of this ; a renewed interest in social justice and respect for the earth . This is a wake up call from Mother Earth to cut the crap. I consider myself very lucky compared to some others. I enjoy solitude and am expanding my grow veggies for my neighbors. I am scared for our country – we need FDR

    • I’m angry and appalled that the “leadership” of my own health care provider was so badly prepared for this crisis. It’s not like there’s never been a pandemic before. I’ve heard from several health care workers about a lack of supplies and low pay. Anyone on the front line of this crisis deserves protective gear and combat pay. This is indeed a wake up call. We need to put people before profits.

  10. I work in healthcare, and initially I felt really panicky. But my area has not been too badly hit (at least, not yet), and I’m starting to find my way.
    On my days off at home, I am more relaxed and confident than I have been in years, eating and sleeping better too. I feel… Peaceful. It’s like so much has been laid bare about life, without all the distractions, that I have a clarity about things now. I am more in touch with my own mortality and feeling OK with that, even. It’s quite Zen. Not what I was expecting.
    None of that takes away from how much the world has suffered and will suffer, I’m not glad we have this, but I’m grateful for the silver lining.
    And Grow Girl, I hope to retire soon too, in part because I realize how much better I feel when I’m not so busy!

  11. Erik, I loved reading this and will be much more diligent about Root Simple in the future. While this is a very bone chilling tough time for the entire world, I’m cautiously optimistic that we will learn from it to be much more aware of what is important. People matter, all lives matter, black lives that are so at risk in this Pandemic really matter. Sheltering in place with a loved one is not the worst thing that can happen. Doing it alone can be fearful and lead to self destruction, so we who are fortunate enough to be isolating with a loved partner must be reaching out as much as possible to those who are alone, no matter how young or how old. We must all work to repair the damage that has been done by the current administration and get our country back on track, but NOT at the expense of The World Health Organization, the Climate Change Movement or the immigrants who want to be part of the USA and improve their lot. How can we forget that nearly all of our ancestors came from somewhere else. This time together can be a gift and provide us with opportunities to help in so many ways to bring us back to whatever the new normal will be. My parents lived through the Great Depression and WWII. Our country rebounded admirably and built a great nation. We can do it again if we all remember what this has meant and vow to restore effective leadership, the checks and balances in Washington designed to solidify and maintain a great democracy.

  12. I am fine as is my retired friend with whom I live at the present. We have food, money to buy more, and we are healthy. We intend to stay that way if we have to quarantine for two more years! Every day, I talk to the tv, retorts to dumbasses in White House.

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