Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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Pandemic Diary 13: Teach Your Children

The control freak aspect to my personality hates life in quarantine.

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I taught freshman composition at two upstate New York colleges in the early 1990s for five years. My last class met for its final session at the conclusion of the fall 1995 semester.

From the start of that school term, I knew that this was going to be my last semester teaching or attempting to teach or even correctly referring to myself as a “teacher”; thus, of course, two of the three classes that semester were two of the best groups of students I had yet worked with, and they almost made me regret my decision to retire at age 27. Almost.

The decision never was mine to make, however; I was not a good teacher, and I am grateful that I learned this on the sooner side of “sooner or later.” I am, perhaps, an entertaining lecturer but I am an even better student; as a twenty-something freshman composition instructor, I must have been execrable. It was too bad that I had barely made even the faintest start in what eventually became my pose as a long-suffering anything by the time it was all over.
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Pandemic Diary 12: Love and Light

Kindness is always available, of course, but snark, innuendo, and rumor are the only currencies in the economy of dread that quarantine offers us.

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An April shower lashes the northeast today; my window faces the southeast, so it feels like my desk is ringside at a boxing match. It is a day-long storm with an angry wind that is noisy even without tree branches or loose eaves to whistle through. After three weeks of quarantine, this can feel like a quarantine inside a quarantine, twenty-three hours of solitary confinement with sixty minutes alone added just for today.

Some days in quarantine, the repetition of minor tasks and details is relentless, and then the relentlessness is its own unforgiving detail. Days like today, with the gusty threat of a power—and internet—outage, which might on any other April 13 carry a “day off from school” relief, instead add foreboding to the limited palette of anxious dread.

Thus, the glimpses of light when they come are more brilliant and meaningful if one allows oneself to perceive them.
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Pandemic Diary 9: Love and Service

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.

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Sometimes I wonder about the elderly couple that my friend and ran into a few years ago. If they are still with us, does the quarantine affect them; for those who were already in a form of social isolation, how has the month of April 2020 felt any different, if at all?

Love is love, no matter what. This fact can feel like a new idea in isolation, a revelation in our current world of video chats and the neighborly refusal to sweat the small stuff when the suffering and loss of others are omnipresent. I want to sweat the small stuff, though, to return to my cranky outlook on life, but I have friends on the front line of this global tragedy. I have family whose acquaintance with loss is renewed each decade or so. Thus, the small stuff remains small—Quarantine Land leads one to thoughts about whether any worry is important or not. Priorities are assembled in a more sensible order.
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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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