24 Hours

Yesterday was a little stressful.

One of my colleagues coughed through a whole meeting. Another laughed as he shared that he had developed ansomia, the inability to smell or taste anything. But the worst thing that happened all day was that a meeting was cancelled and I suddenly had an empty hour on my calendar. An empty hour. What would I do with it? I couldn’t settle down, got up, paced around the house. Checked my long to-do list. Paced some more. Gave myself a hard time for overthinking. I had a bad feeling that I was forgetting something, something I needed to be doing. Something that would come back to haunt me. (I wasn’t.)

In the midst of this, I remembered a birthday a couple of years ago. I met a friend for lunch and we took a walk through the village. We bought cupcakes and sat in a park where someone was playing an instrument at a nearby table and children played in the sun. The scent of flowers surrounded us. Remembering, I felt nostalgia, a sense of loss. The memory haunted me all day.

My husband was reassigned from his office job to a hospital to help out. He wouldn’t be on the front lines, but he would be around people. The masks my father in law arrived in the mail. They are the cheapest masks possible, masks only because they are mask-shaped, the package marked “Not for medical or safety use.”

At the end of the day, I told myself I would bake brownies, the baking would be soothing, and my husband would come home to the smell of brownies but, as I checked the pantry, I realized that the only ingredient I had was eggs. So I made quiche instead, except we only had skim milk and the quiche stayed watery, even after an hour and a half of baking.

Then the virtual cocktail hour we had planned with friends somehow turned instead into a crazy hour-long call with a crazy relative who has succumbed to the stress, and was telling us a) don’t go outside – just leaving our apartment would cause us to catch it; b) if we have to get groceries – even delivered – we should wipe down all the packages with bleach and not buy fresh vegetables; c) that she has managed to get ahold of a package of the highest grade masks and will send us a couple (masks so strong that they scar the skin on your face which, with my latex allergy, would leave me permanently scarred). It was an hour on the wrong end of a fire-hose of anxiety, fear, and anger.

I went to bed and dreamt that people were muttering about me in a corner, pointing at me and gossiping about me, just softly enough that I couldn’t really tell what they were saying. I woke up, into that half-sleep where you are wondering how you could possibly have forgotten all the answers for the civil war history test that you had studied so hard for – my husband’s dream, he told me when he woke up – only to finally come fully awake and realize that what I had heard was not people muttering about me, but the audio book my husband was using to lull his mind to sleep, an audio book about civil war statistics.

I rolled out of bed, stumbled into the living room, bounced off the kitchen full of quiche-baking dishes, and took refuge in a guided meditation which asked me to picture a beautiful garden full of colorful, healthy fruits and vegetables. I found that hard because my perfectionism doesn’t like to see vegetables in nature: they are imperfect, bugs crawl on them, they rot in the sun. I struggled through that part of the meditation.

And then the guide reminded me, “I cannot control the events around me, but I can control my reaction to them.”

And suddenly I felt better.

I can’t control the virus or the way people respond to the virus. I can’t control the insanity of people who are succumbing to panic and fear. I can’t control where my husband gets assigned but I can stay calm and arrange things so that he can come straight from the front door to the shower and make sure he has hot food when he gets home. I can’t change what I have in my cabinets right now, but I can stay patient until I place my next grocery order. I can’t stop my husband from putting on his audiobook when I’m asleep, but I can recognize what happened when I wake up, and laugh about it.

My actions are my only true possessions. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the path on which I walk.

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