I have enjoyed my share of post-apocalyptic flicks in my day, but I can’t say that in my wildest dreams I had ever imagined living through one. Enter 2020 along with a global pandemic and we all are.
As a busy journalist and a married mom of two, young rambunctious kiddos, I always lived on the go. At times, it literally felt like being on a treadmill; one that never completely stopped, only slowed down slightly every once in a while before the pace picked up again. Honestly, I never pictured myself being holed up indefinitely in my home with my entire immediate family — simultaneously along with the entire world — in an effort to dodge a deadly virus that literally sucks the very life from your body. That’s a Will Smith movie if I ever heard of one.
So, what is this dreadful COVID-19? From where does it hail? Is it an anomaly of science? Is it manmade in a laboratory, created with the intent of wreaking havoc on all of our lives? Well, I’m far from a virologist, microbiologist or hell any type of “ist,” but based on what’s been going down at my home lately, I’m beginning to think the investigation into this should maybe include me or some other spouses with lengthy honey-do lists shriveled up and yellowed from years of neglect.
Let me explain. This whole shelter in place thing seemingly came out of nowhere. One minute, I’m working on my podcast, shuttling my kids to and from school every day and planning the big PTA fundraiser, and the next, the four people I live with are all in my home with me. All. Day. Itsweird, jarring and, quite frankly mind-boggling. The never-ending family slumber party was fun that first weekend, but then Monday rolled around and I’m like, Wait a minute. I have work to do. How am I supposed to get that done, homeschool, manage my regular household duties, all the while disinfecting everything like a madwoman?
I thought about hiding out in our home office; yes, the one that ironically, I had pushed myself to set up the year before, despite any indication whatsoever that it would be used in the near future. I’m talking funky glass desk, fluffy rug, and even funkier drapes — the works. Later, the laser printer, file cabinets, and the bookshelves sealed the deal on my pristine, yet rarely used, until now, office.
Unfortunately, my husband beat me to it. That first week, he’d close the French doors and disappear into a vortex of Zoom meetings and conference calls. But little did I know that this office space would become a little “Santa’s workshop” of sorts; space where my wifely fantasies would finally come true. In the evenings, during what was once his normal commute time and on his lunch breaks, he started tinkering with stuff. The results were what a wife’s dreams are made of.
Each day, something different: 12 framed art pieces and ledges displaying my journalism awards finally hung, the home office desktop decluttered, patio accessories ordered, a security system complete with cameras and lighting installed and he even set up the Facebook Portal and Alexa thingys that had been collecting dust in boxes for an embarrassingly long time. Wait, is this the same dude I had to beg for like, 6 weeks to hang a single curtain rod in said office?
Let’s just say it is absolutely amazing what one can accomplish with the absence of any live sports being broadcast. These days, work begins when you open your laptop, meetings become detailed emails, dressing up is cut out altogether, and a 66-mile round trip daily commute to the office vanishes. Poof! Bosses of America, are you listening? It’s like being in the Twilight Zone, only it’s real.
Then my mind began to wander. Wait a minute, could I have had something to do with this pandemic madness? I mean I’ve never been to China, let alone in the Wuhan region. Plus, I don’t like bats; but somehow maybe I pulled this off for myself and the other significant others out there who’ve long-craved eye-contact — and attention — on Sunday game days. Hmmm.
Maybe it was like one of those science fiction flicks where someone knocks you unconscious, takes over your body and makes you do things you don’t remember, all while bearing a glassy-eyed gaze. Perhaps this meme summed it up best: “The virus has done what no other woman was able to do: cancel all sports, shut down all bars and keep men at home.”
Ok, all joking aside. Of course, I didn’t have a hand in this pandemic nor the legions of others out there now learning firsthand the power of a pandemic in helping finally get shit done. I take the coronavirus situation very seriously and reject all assertions that it is overhyped at best and, at worse, a hoax. As an African American woman and New Orleans native, even more so, due to the disproportionate death rates being reported in our communities. So far, more than 80,000 Americans have died and millions have also lost jobs and the livelihoods they need to care for themselves and their families. And this is just the beginning.
I know that I have been privileged to be able to work from home when so many others cannot and as a result over the past few weeks I have struggled with chronic insomnia and anxiety, worrying about the deep suffering my fellow Americans and those around the world are enduring. During this time of uncertainty, I have leaned on the lessons I learned during my family’s heartbreaking ordeal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in my hometown 15 years ago.
In times like this, we must commit to searching for the silver lining; it’s the only way to stay sane and maintain any sense of optimism, hope, and peace in a world that way too often feels cold, cruel, and blatantly unfair.
For my family, we have made it a point to sit down to dinner together every night since this began. There was that delightful road trip one Saturday when we checked out, from the car of course, the gorgeous mountain views that we’ve often taken for granted. There have also been family movie nights, long neighborhood walks, an indoor Easter egg hunt, and even a fun night of impromptu family yoga. Special moments with friends have included Zoom parties, hours-long catch-up phone calls, and consistent texts and emails. I am reminded that life is fragile and fleeting and that you’re only as strong as the relationships that you build and nurture.
Undoubtedly, we will all walk away from this public health epidemic very different from who we were BC — before corona, but let’s not limit the changes we make going forward to merely eliminating handshakes and holding back hugs. Let’s vow to never forget the lives lost or the livelihoods ravaged by a public health crisis, but also do our best to remember 2020 notably as the year we stayed in, dug deep and learned undeniably what matters most in our lives.
Chandra Thomas Whitfield is a Denver-based award-winning journalist and a 2019-2020 fellow with the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. She is currently wrapping up production on a podcast for In These Times Magazine about how the gender pay gap affects black women.