You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone

Family Gathering

I wanted to laugh today. I thought we’d all be ready to laugh. Yesterday I started to write a list of all the best-worst scenes of the 1995 disaster-drama Outbreak that’s streaming on Netflix. It’s the so-good-it’s-bad epidemic movie we need right now. (Hot tip: a young Patrick Dempsey plays a sketchy forklift driver who steals an infected monkey.)

But then I went to the grocery store because I am trying to shop like normal while I can and not eat up too much of our emergency stash. That’s when the weight of what’s happening really started to sink in.

In the past couple of days much of Europe has been locked down. The city of San Francisco is under orders to “shelter in place” and residents can only leave their homes for essentials. Schools, gyms, theatres, restaurants and bars are closed in many parts of Canada and the US. Everything is moving so fast! Remember two weeks ago when all we wanted to know was who was getting married on Love is Blind?

But things are serious now and I have been starting to realize that we could be in this for the long haul. We honestly don’t know for how many weeks or months schools might stay closed as we continue to stay away from others. I’ve heard there could be rolling periods of increasing and decreasing isolation as the virus ebbs and wanes in different areas. But we do know that even in our best-case scenarios a lot of people in our communities will be very sick and many will die.

We’d been planning to drive home to Toronto to visit with family and friends for Easter. It’s looking more and more like that is unlikely to happen. You can’t visit all your loved ones when you’re supposed to quarantine for two weeks after entering the country.

Miraculously, however, I found an old box of vinyl gloves in with the cleaning supplies that somehow survived our move from Toronto to D.C., and I snapped one on before leaving the house. Who knew that it only takes one disposable glove to feel like a highly trained undercover intelligence agent!? I had it all figured out. My gloved hand would be for pushing the cart and picking things up and my bare hand would be my pocket hand for accessing my phone, shopping list, bank card and car key. Outside hand and inside hand! That was brilliant right up until the first time I tried to open a produce bag with one hand. And then there were the half dozen times I accidentally started pushing the grocery cart with the wrong hand.

The supermarket wasn’t packed, but many shelves were still empty from the weekend’s panic shoppers. There was no pasta, no garlic, and barely any meat. Those of us shopping were like ninjas. We kept our distance, darting in to grab items off shelves and then springing back to our carts. We avoided interacting with one another completely, as though the virus is spread through eye contact.

But my ninja mojo started to wane as I wound my way over to the bakery section and saw fresh loaves of Irish soda bread and green-frosted cupcakes for St. Patrick’s day. I felt a lump swell up in my throat. (Lumpy throat? Is that a COVID symptom!? My internal symptom check runs non-stop in the back of my mind now.)

It’s not that my family is even into St. Patrick’s day, Irish heritage notwithstanding. If Irish stew or bangers and mash are on the menu it’s just a coincidence! I’d normally be cursing under my breath as I rummage through the kids’ drawers first thing in the morning searching for anything that can claim to be a shade of green. But there’s nothing normal about this year and I started to feel all of what is being lost.

On a macro scale, our kids have only ever known good times. There hasn’t even been a recession (2008 barely registered in Canada), let alone war or any other hardships. They’ve been raised in the time of Pinterest-perfect crafts and Instagram-worthy meals. Matching holiday PJs might not be your thing, but they do signal a world in which we have the freedom, security and happiness to dedicate to that level of frivolity.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and squeezed back tears. Then I turned around to find a wall of Easter chocolate and it nearly sent me over the edge.

Think of everything we are sacrificing this spring alone: long-anticipated graduations, proms, school trips, plays, recitals, sports tournaments, and cultural or religious celebrations. These are the things we centre our family lives around, and the things our kids have been working and striving for. It’s might not be everything they care about, but it’s close.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know how long it will take to emerge from the shadow of this pandemic. We don’t know what the full economic and political ramifications will be. So, yes, we will continue on with a stiff upper lip and we will continue to find joy and laughter through it all.

But just for now, or for however long we need, it’s also okay to mourn what we have lost. And we hope we’ll never take for granted the life we are afforded in times of peace, health and security.


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