A View from the Hill: A little normalcy goes a long way

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Two of my grandchildren, who are 5 and 8, came into my home last weekend for the first overnight visit in ages. It was awkward, then, quickly, wonderful. 

The kids live only 20 minutes away, but early in the pandemic, I closed my home to everyone. That was hard because my homes have always been the site of frequent grandkid and family visits and lots of sleepovers.

The first time anyone entered my house again was June 9, when people dressed like surgeons came in for an hour or so to wash the windows. 

I know, could have washed the windows myself, but (a) I’m lazy and (b) perhaps I was testing my tolerance for having visitors after being alone for three months. I did not have a panic attack and I did not get COVID-19. My attitude softened.

Sometime later I let my 16-year-old grandson in after he called while walking downtown and said he desperately needed to go to the bathroom, though not in so many words. What could I say? I sanitized the bathroom. He used the bathroom. I re-sanitized it. (By the way, I think this was a trick on his part to get inside the house.)

Previously extremely comfortable with each other, we now did an awkward dance behind masks. I was both relieved and heartbroken when he left. Who knows where a teenage boy has been or what he’s been up to? He asked for a ride home, but at that point, nobody had been in my car since early March. 

No.

He offered to wear a mask, sit in the back and stick his head out the window.

No.

I suggested he call one of his parents instead, which he did.

That started a trickle of family members back into the house on various ruses. I would set up chairs outside or a dining table in the open garage, but inevitably someone would find a reason to go into the house and I would acquiesce.

Which brings us to the kids’ visit last weekend – the first time I had had an overnight guest since March 10, when the teenager slept over and got sick during the night. He insists it was COVID-19 and that therefore he is not infectious. I think that is another trick aimed at getting me to further relax my protocols.

Which I’ve been doing anyway as I build a pod, or bubble, or whatever. There are now six people on the pod list that I keep on my whiteboard. I have been briefly inside a couple of my kids’ homes, masked and nervous, and inside the homes of two other people, one who has had COVID-19 and the other because, well, it just happened that way.

All this, and, really, little has changed since early March. Yes, Maine is one of the safest states in this besieged nation. And, yes, the treatment of the virus has improved dramatically. Yes, there’s testing, but not enough to mean anything, since test results are so slow in many instances.

But, overall it would be a stretch to call things a lot better since in much of the country they are a lot worse.

And yet, despite great uncertainty, with 160,000 Americans dead and more than 5 million sickened, we individually, and as communities, evolve and adapt, as I have, to live with the virus under terms we can accept.

As a nation, we are in a profound crisis. In an Aug. 11 piece that succeeded in being both honest and hopeful, The Washington Post compared the pandemic to a marathon, adding:

“The metaphor of a marathon doesn’t capture the wearisome, confounding, terrifying and somehow dull and drab nature of this ordeal for many Americans, who have watched leaders fumble the pandemic response from the start. Marathons have a defined conclusion, but 2020 seems like an endless slog, uphill, in mud.”

And yet, the writers concluded, “This crisis, too, will pass.” For hope, the Post turned to Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan.

“No question,” he told them, “epidemic fatigue or pandemic fatigue is real. We are experiencing it. But throughout human history, there have been terrible pandemics and contagious threats. Every civilization, every nation, has come through to the other side. And we will too.”

As individuals, maybe as communities, if not as a nation, we seem to have the ability to superimpose artifacts of “normal” life over the roiling chaos that COVID-19 has wrought.

Perhaps that is just resuming to sleepovers with grandchildren. Or dinner in the garage.

Little things that make us feel a bit more normal.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.