Pandemic Diary 7: A Memory of a Friend

Each April 7, some of us remember a friend of ours who passed on this date. Charles F. Brennan, III—my friend Charlie (November 2, 1960–April 7, 2014)—was my recovery sponsor for a time.

On this date, some of us remember him—not for his departure, but for his presence. What follows are my handful of memories from the brief three or so years that I knew him at the end of his all-too-brief fifty-three years. The departure was difficult enough, but a community grew closer for a moment and thus a beauty came out of it. That was my first experience of beauty within grief, and it was a testament to the lives Charlie had touched and influenced.

At the top is a copy of The Serenity Prayer in Irish, which we found in his apartment:

An Phaidir Suaimhneas
A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú,
misneach chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.

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Pandemic Diary 6: Don’t Bother Me

The absence of contact in Quarantine Land is its most devious challenge. I do not live alone, so I have more day-to-day contact with a fellow human being than many of us, but the isolation is felt even when one shares a house with a housemate/landlord, as I do.

The isolation from others and isolation with one individual can create an attitude of what can only be referred to as a pathological co-dependency (well, for me, anyway): at different moments, the housemate/landlord (who in my case happens to be a sincere, genial, perpetually direct and honest individual) can take the form of authority figure, warden, and then be returned to his normal, genial self, all in a flash. Perhaps I take on those forms within his mind, as well. At least I am aware of the effect of isolation on me, and I only respond to the genial housemate and not the figment in my isolation imagination.

When I described this phenomenon to a friend and started to complain about it, I forgot that the friend to whom I was complaining lives alone, is new in town, and is in the same sudden isolation but is isolated alone. My description of my complaint sounded to him like a restaurant-goer with a complaint about a free dessert: “I thought you said something about a free cheesecake and this is strawberry cheesecake! Why, this is an outrage!”
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Pandemic Diary 5: Where’s the Candy?

Quarantine life has neither improved nor ruined my food life. I seem to consume the same amount each day in calories (not enough on the best of days) and the quality is pretty much identical to what is was pre-quarantine (not that great, because I am single).

The one big difference I have seen came when I discovered that my most recent favorite seasonal candy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs—which are a peanut butter cup but in a flattened Easter egg shape that somehow changes the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter from what one expects in a peanut butter cup to perfect—is now everyone’s favorite seasonal candy and not my secret favorite thing. They vanished from the local grocery store shelves at least two weeks before Easter. The eggs are usually to be found available in a bulk discount pile of bags of twenty each near the front of the store the day after Easter; last week these precious gems were available for a dollar per egg at my grocery store and the store did not have ten of them to make a “Ten for $10” purchase.
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Pandemic Diary 4: The Streets Where I Lived

A small major detail from my life history has left my brain: the second address in which I lived.

A look at the map of the neighborhood and its suburban collection of descriptive names, which do not correspond to any physical reality—”Meadowview?” If one has sight, everything is a view, but is every front lawn a meadow? “Saddlerock?” Why is every street name in that development composed of three unrelated syllables?—triggers no memory. I remember the home, but I could not find it on the map, so do I remember it? I think I typed its name above, but the great American tradition of picturesque suburban street names concealed it from me in the uniqueness it shares with all the other road names around it. The names are each alike in their uniqueness.
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Pandemic Diary 3: With a Song in Our Heart

Perhaps in a world in which we need our neighbors more than usual, in which a global drama plays out in our local grocery stores and on the streets where we live, the music and creative expression we turn to for rest, relief, entertainment, and even solace—that deepest of words—ought to be local as well.

* * * *
When all this is over, some of the things we used to take for granted will appear to us a novelties or great new ideas. My gosh, even the thought of something ever ending feels something like a novelty at this moment.
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Pandemic Diary 2: Use a Password!

Much of life in the coronavirus lockdown moved to online video conferences about three weeks ago, a fact which is reflected in the NASDAQ share price of one company, Zoom Video Communications, Inc: on March 13, it was $107.47 per share and on March 23 the price was $159.56 per share. (It has since dropped to $121.93 as of today, largely for reasons discussed below.)

There have been video conference web sites, platforms, and applications available for many years, but Zoom is free for a “Basic” plan, simple to navigate on a smartphone or laptop, handled the increase in traffic with ease (“a 535% rise in daily traffic to the Zoom.us download page, according to an analysis from web analytics firm SimilarWeb”), can handle groups in the dozens if not hundreds, and is quite easy to use. College classes have used Zoom as virtual classrooms for years, so when college campuses closed in the pandemic, all unfinished courses moved to finish the semester on the virtual platform.

Zoom allows yoga instructors to continue to conduct sessions, therapists to meet clients, recovery groups to hold as many meetings as they may want to, corporate boards to meet, the quarantined British prime minister to run cabinet meetings, journalists to conduct “in-person” interviews, quarantined families to continue to be families. And it is a free service for the “Basic” package, which allows for forty-minute meetings.

Zoom also promises end-to-end encryption for secure conferences. That last part is not a lie, but it uses the phrase end-to-end in a way that does not mean what the average user of the service might think it means.
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Pandemic Diary 1: Of Jokes and Introverts

In this era of pandemic concerns, rumors and memes are more easily communicable and travel more quickly than that airborne virus which we must each dodge like Neo in the first Matrix film. Here in my hometown of New Paltz, NY, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases escalated from one to many long before (well, days before) one was confirmed.

(We now have several, and a town whose boundary is within walking distance from my house is my county’s current coronavirus hot spot. Well, yay! us.)

When New York State imposed a stay-at-home quarantine for anyone deemed “not essential” by employers on the night of March 22—two long weeks ago—a variation of a meme about introverts proliferated: “When you find out your normal daily lifestyle is called ‘quarantine'” read one popular meme over a children’s show character’s reaction to something. (Below.)
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