The last two years have affected many of us in ways we never imagined. Although Covid-19 has become as commonplace as the seasonal cold or flu, the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by all. Whether feeling the effects of supply chain upset, being hyper-aware of germs and hygiene, or feeling anxious, isolated, or reluctant to go out in crowded public places, we have all been touched by this situation.
Take yesterday, for example. I’m pretty sure one bib overall wearing fire starter burned my Christmas wrapping paper I bought on clearance from our professional packaging supplier at the end of the season last year. The result of his overly zealous fire-starting housekeeping is that I had to go out and do last-minute shopping for new wrapping paper. The stores were packed, mainly with men doing last-minute shopping. As I walked the isles looking for gift wrap and purchasing the necessities for our holiday meal, I found myself focused on all the people who were in uncomfortably close proximity to me that were coughing, hacking, and sneezing.
I admit I’ve always been a bit of a germophobe. However, I believe the last two years have heightened my acute awareness of germs and potential illnesses. When an elderly gentleman blew his nose into a cloth hanky, and I felt the wind from the blow on my face, I noticeably twitched. My face is a dead giveaway for what I am thinking and feeling…I can’t help it. I must have looked panicked and disgusted because the gentleman apologized to me. This, dear reader, was my breaking point. I went from being mildly uncomfortable to feeling overly anxious. As I maneuvered through the crowd, I had the irrational thought of abandoning my cart and fleeing the store. I quelled my panic, gathered everything on my shopping list, checked out as quickly as possible, and breathed a sigh of relief when I successfully made it outside into the fresh air. I got in my car and sprayed my hands with an overabundance of hand sanitizer, then sat in the peace and safety of my car for a few minutes.
I went home to drop off lunch to my bib-overall-wearing destroyer of wrapping paper and “The Muffle,” aka Morgan. I then had to go back out into the wilds of last-minute holiday shoppers to T.J. Maxx to purchase gift bags and “Santa wrapping paper” for my bean. I normally relish a trip to my favorite store, but yesterday I dreaded it. The parking lot was buzzing with activity; this never bodes well. I entered the store to find the checkout line far past the normal cue area…sigh. I went directly to the gift wrap section, made my selection, and went directly to the checkout. There was no perusing the shoe department or home goods. I bypassed the junior’s department and avoided the misses section. I was a woman on a mission but was fighting down that irrational panicked feeling that threatened to overtake me.
As I was checking out, I spotted my dear friend standing alone with her little pink N-95 mask, looking like I felt. I gave her a tentative wave. Once we had checked out, we met outside the store and spoke for a few minutes. I have not seen my dear friend regularly for almost two years. We met for an outdoor lunch in the summer, but that was the last I saw her. I always invite her to our home for the holidays. I know she will politely decline my invitation, but I extend it anyhow. As we stood chatting, she explained that she feels mildly agoraphobic, but the last two years have exacerbated her hermit-like tendencies. She fears becoming ill, can’t handle the hustle and bustle of the crowds, and cocoons herself in her home unless she is at work.
I can sympathize with these feelings, dear reader. My friend mirrors my emotions and anxiety. I no longer relish eating out at restaurants. I no longer enjoy shopping in crowded stores. The desire to travel is nonexistent. Sitting in a crowded airport would send me over the edge, let alone being stuck in a tin can with a punch of germ-spreading strangers breathing recycled air. I have become accustomed to the vast open space of my farm. I am more comfortable in open-air markets that give me a false sense of security. Traveling in my car with my tribe is the only way I feel comfortable traveling. Cooking meals with ingredients and hygiene I can control is now my comfort zone. I have become everything I made fun of my bib overall-wearing buddy for and more.
My friend told me that people have become judgmental and harsh with her for her reluctance to “go back to normal.” This made her feel like an outcast and misunderstood. It makes me feel bad to know that she feels this way. The thought occurred to me that even though the pandemic is over, we must continue to practice grace, understanding, and kindness. We never know how others feel or what they may deal with alone. Although we may not agree with or understand how someone feels, it is not our place to pass judgment or give unsolicited advice. If we really care about that person, it is our job to meet them where they are at the moment.
I gave this some thought as I drove home from town yesterday. Rather than invite my friend to lunch, I need to call her once a week to check in with her. Instead of asking her to a family gathering, I can invite her to my home one-on-one and open a few windows for her comfort. I can walk with her outdoors rather than take our usual trip to T.J. Maxx. We could walk around town looking at the Christmas lights rather than drive around in an enclosed car in close proximity. I can compromise to make her feel more comfortable and spend time with her. If I genuinely care for her, and I do, making minor adjustments to make her feel more comfortable is not a big deal. This will be put on my list of fifty fun things to do. Making time and accommodations for those I care about is going to be a priority for the new year.
On this sunny but chilly December day, stay safe, be smart, practice grace, kindness, and understanding, and for the love of all that’s holy, keep washing your hands.