Originally published September 14 on Medium
Last weekend was hot. Not the heavy, sticky hot of an East Coast heat wave — where you know a thunderstorm will eventually tamp the humidity. The Southern California heat felt like an oven door left open, ready to burn what lies too close.
The sun now casts a pretty peach light over my backyard. It feels a bit like walking around in an Instagram filter. A nostalgic glow hovers over my kids as they run in the grass. It would be lovely if I didn’t know it was from raging, historic fires in the distance. The fires are miles and miles away burning other people’s memories, strangers’ homes, and faceless wildlife.
We’re still too far to smell smoke. We aren’t panicking about what we need to take, what we will leave and where we will flee. But it leaves me with a different kind of worry. The kind that lingers and settles in. The kind that wakes me up at 2 am to remind me it’s still there. There are alot of those worries these days.
Last week was also 26 weeks since March 13. Six months. Half a year. One hundred and eighty days since people stopped moving as the world kept spinning. In those first weeks, it felt like we were just holding on as the pandemic swept us up. We held our breath hoping the damage wouldn’t be too severe.
In the twenty-six-week-long wake, it’s starting to feel like the pandemic hasn’t caused destruction, it’s just kicked up a mess that was already there: deep political divisions, a broken education system, environmental crisis, racism, a broken health care system, not to mention any of our own personal tragedies.
It’s too much.
And yet, in my tiny corner of the world, all is well. It may not be the easiest of times, but I am safe, comfortable, well fed, well loved. Even that, against the backdrop of a world on fire, feels like too much. How did I get so lucky? What can I do? How can I help? What am I learning?
I started writing about life in the pandemic to help me make sense of what’s happening. When I can’t, I try to read. But I’m starting to believe there isn’t any “making sense” in 2020. People are angry and distraught and ambivalent and self-righteous and confused.
How do we get out of the mess?
We give money. We rant. We raise awareness with t-shirts and hashtags. We watch documentaries. We drink. We quit drinking. We wear masks or don’t wear masks. We march and meditate and add “self-care” to our to do list. But it feels like throwing bandaids on someone who is losing a limb.
It’s been a week since I started writing this. It’s no longer hot as an oven. Most of the fire that burned in our county is now contained, but it still feels like we’re walking through a filtered reality. It’s taken me a week to figure out what I really want to say.
I can’t fix the long list of monumental problems that keep me up at night, but I can help in my tiny corner. Instead of being paralyzed by an avalanche of problems, I can start with what I can control. I can show my kids how small changes, over time, become big changes.
We started growing tomatoes and peppers. It’s been an effort in frustration. First we had hornworms on the tomatoes. Then we had some kind of mystery animal eating whole leaves of the pepper plant. Then the leaves started turning yellow (apparently overwhlemed by an avalanche of problems) and gave up. Still, on battered stems, some tiny green tomatoes started to grow.
Then, just as the longest survivor was on the cusp of ripening red, it, (and some others) disappeared in the night. So we Googled solutions and kept trying. This weekend we finally got to enjoy the single fruit of our labor. One small, grape tomato, cut into even smaller pieces to go around. It was declared, “the best tomato we’ve ever eaten.”
When I think about the past 26 weeks, what stands out are all the contradictions. Twenty six weeks feels like a lifetime and a flash. People are sometimes awful and sometimes achingly helpful. Knowledge can pass for ignorance as easily as ignorance can pass for knowledge. Staying home has been a gift and a curse. Everything has changed and nothing has changed.
The pandemic has kicked up quite a mess but somehow has also provided clarity. The world can be blanketed in a weird peachy haze and be beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Growing tomatoes feel worthless until it’s finally worth it. Not changing is as uncomfortable as changing. It’s all true.
The world is overwhelming and maybe falling apart. But, like 2 am worries that metastasize in the dark, the world gets more hazy the farther out you look. In the light of day, I remember to focus on what’s in front of me. It’s the only way out of the mess.