Two weeks ago I was an overworked art teacher scrambling to teach 60 classes a month. Today, all my classes have been cancelled. The class venues are libraries, schools, senior homes, museums, churches and corporate offices. The sites are a cross-section of America and now they’re all closed. I guess this means America is closed.
Like many, I’m less worried about contracting coronavirus than I am about job security. Obviously, I don’t want the disease and I don’t want to infect others. But I’m concerned about paying my bills. And I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
I’m not alone. Most of my neighbors live month-to-month and have limited savings. This includes the sous chef whose restaurant was shuttered. And the guitarist whose concerts were cancelled. And the Netflix coder working from home after COVID-19 was discovered in his Hollywood office.
Walking north on Fairfax Ave. near my apartment, I took stock of the local businesses. All the restaurants are closed. The preschool is closed. The dry cleaner sign reads “open” but the doors are locked. The only open businesses are Starbucks, 7-Eleven, the weed shop and the cupcake shop. The owner of the cupcake shop told me, “If not for the weed shop I’d be closed too. The stoners are keeping me afloat.”
The city feels different. Streets are empty. Freeways are clear. Markets are out of food and drugstores out of cold medicine. Pedestrians wear ill-fitting facemasks as if getting ready to rob a bank. People who cough are glared at as if they have the plague. The only item remaining in the Trader Joe’s frozen bin is something called a pulled jackfruit sandwich.
My wife and I bought enough food and water for six weeks. We’ve learned to make our own hand sanitizer (three parts rubbing alcohol, one part aloe vera gel). We’ve stocked up on immunity supplements (Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Elderberry and Grapefruit Seed). I have a backlog of books to read and comedy DVD’s to watch. I even have time to write the novel I’ve been neglecting.
But I’m on edge. And so is everyone else. You can see it in people’s faces. The wide eyes, the furrowed brow, the non-stop checking of phones for crisis updates. My religious friends wonder if this is the start of a seven-year Biblical tribulation. My spiritual friends are calling this a cosmic shift of consciousness. A therapist we know has rebranded herself a pandemic coach.
No one knows how long this will last. No one knows how bad it will get. I just know it’s scary and confusing. I’m hopeful something good will come out of this. Maybe people will be kind to each other and focus on the needs of others. Maybe we’ll finally realize we’re all connected and that what affects one of us affects everyone. Maybe antiquated concepts like “health care is a privilege not a right” will be tossed into the ignorant dustbin where it belongs.
I’ve taken steps to mitigate my anxiety. I start each day with prayer and meditation. I take hikes with my wife. I limit exposure to the Internet. Now that the NBA is suspended, I’ve stopped watching television. I’ve dug out my old Rumi poetry books and I read the words hoping they’ll soothe my soul. “Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away. All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine.”