Connection in the Time of Corona

In acute ways, on March 10 around 3 p.m., my life became easier. Julia’s school closed, in an instant, via email, from the corona virus threat.

I no longer was mandated to rise at 6:30 a.m. ( 5:30 a.m. on swim practice mornings ) and hump Julia to school. The knot in my stomach that had shaped over two years from plotting the best time to dash out of the office to pick up Julia from extended day, on time, without dropping a work deadline or task, has unfurled. I no longer spent the walk home from school trying to summon up the energy to whip up dinner; now I roll from my dining room table after a day’s work.

For more than two months I’ve spent the longest period of time with Julia since her homecoming from Ethiopia almost a decade ago. In some ways, this time is similar to how I spent my days then, working remotely and cooking continuously.

Still, ten years ago I didn’t go outside because I didn’t want to leave Julia, we were cocooned in love bond. Now I must go out to food shop, which comes with some risk, mask or no mask.

(No, Instacart and I did not make friends. It already has a lot of friends.)

A decade ago, I cocooned with my new daughter and my mom. My mother cohabitated with us for two months, helping me learn how to care for Julia. February 2020 marked one year since my mother left this earth. Back then I cocooned with an eight month old. Today I’m held up with ten year old who argues most every point on the principal of being a ten year old. ( I can’t imagine where Julia gets that from.) Still, we are connecting on a deeper level, although at times using voices that boarder on shrill but connected we are during the time of corona.

Corona time like Navajo Dream time is different. I no longer connect to adults daily. Like other single New Yorkers, I lost my daily connection to the office. Others of my kind have been separated from their trips to Starbucks, or visits to their favorite bartenders at their favorite bars.

Still, New Yorkers are well versed at living under stress. But as a city we have survived, September 11th attacks and Hurricane Sandy by coming together, something no Zoom meeting can ever create.

When Sandy hit, I was home alone with a three year old, far uptown on dry land. I’d formed the unfortunately habit of watching the news, marked by weeping as the homes that dotted in the southern section of the city, Queens, and Long Island, became unmoored by fists of water and knocked out to sea.

One day, I took break from the sad news and called to check on my friend Chris. I knew she lived on the Upper West Side, just as we did. I knew she didn’t need checking on but I needed to hear another adult voice.

Chris was fine. In fact, Chris and her honey were all set to go out for an afternoon cocktail.

“Wanna come meet us? You’re less than a ten minute cab ride away.”

“Did you forget that I have a kid? I can’t bring a baby into a bar!”

“I didn’t forget. We’re friends with the owner, let me check and see if it’s okay.”

Fifteen minutes later, my cell rang.

“It’s okay come on down,” Chris said.

That’s how during Hurricane Sandy, Julia and I ended up in an Irish pub on West 79th Street. I listened as strangers sang songs to Julia, and others fed her French fries. I watched for hours as my kid traveled for hand to lap, passed around like a communion wafer. I felt the swelling in my eyes go down as drinks did the same. The community had risen up to find us. For a day we were Irish. Black Irish.

However, life under corona doesn’t make such connection, such community healing, possible. I have become a texting fool, and on occasion calling, reaching out to friends and family, checking-in; but connecting is harder. I listen to Masterclass lectures to have the sound of another adult in the house, that aren’t centered on work conferences. The writers help. Margret Atwood is very pleasant to cook with while inspiring. Joyce Carol Oates smooths out the seasoning and saluting, as well as my storytelling. I’ve lean-in, joining fellow New Yorkers for the 7 p.m. cheer, setting my torso out the window. Some days I only notice the time because of the cheering, and pot clanging rising outside. But the silence of isolation is still clings to everything.

Last Saturday, during a break from my constant cooking, working, and cleaning, I called an 800 number to check if the local Apple store was open for pick-up orders as the website stated. It wasn’t. So, I placed an order with the woman at the end of the phone. Somewhere along the line of ordering a product and giving billing info, the 800 Apple Lady, she in her Red State, me in my Blue, went to truth telling and sharing. We became joined by a rare artifact: Honest connection.

(Of course, you did every person who knows me that is reading this post.) I come from a long line of talkers. My cousin Eula, good friend Kim, and Aunt Mable can attest to this talent.)

As she shared some details about her life, I recalled seeing Brene Brorwn on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday recently. Brown said that “everyone doesn’t have the right to hear your story. That it’s dangerous to share such details with the wrong person.” While I knew the chances were minuscule that the 800 Apple Lady and I would ever met face to face, I knew I had to meet her psychologically, honestly in the virtual space we now shared. In fact, it was my duty as a human.

So, she shared. She shared her miscarriage, I shared mine. We shared our mistakes and misgivings. We reminded one another that we both must remember that things often work out in the end, in ways we never imagine. I shared that my old Pastor Paul often said that “God releases details on a need to know basis. That’s we’d mess-up the good coming to us by trying to help.” I shared that I’m the mother of a child adopted from a faraway land, a child that is astonishingly like me, so much so, that I find it shocking, annoying, and at times, revelatory. She shared her dreams of motherhood fade with each miscarriage, with each loss.

As we discovered our similarities, our overlapping blue state and red state observations formed a beautiful shade of purple. And as Alice Walker reminded us, God loves the color purple.

We talked for so long I forgot that I didn’t know her before this call, before the corona virus made it necessary to place an online order, rather than mosey over to the Apple Store on the Upper West Side. After more than two hours of sharing, affirming, and relating, mid-sentence, in an instant, her words cut off. The line fell dead.

I stared at the phone as its round, white speaker button clicked black. A dot of pain in the pit of my stomach, bloomed. Wasn’t it a bad connection? Was she in trouble? I fretted for my friend. I missed the chance to tell her how much having that level of conversation meant to me, today. That what started out a simple connection, changed me.

I wanted to tell the 800 Apple Lady her how much fresh connection would matter more tomorrow. Why? Time matters more. This lockdown has fined tuned the value of time and people; how I spend my time and with whom I spend it.

I wanted to tell her that connection is king, or should I say queen. That we, as Americans, will beginning to thrive again when we open up and listen to one another honesty. Agree or disagree, and then watch the overlaps emerge.

I stared at the black screen of the phone, waiting, hoping she’d call back. The Apple Lady had my phone number. It was right there on my order information. Right there.

Then I remembered that one of us was at work. Still, I clicked on the phone and hit the redial command. Maybe I’d be lucky enough to reach the same 800 Lady again. Then I clicked off. My luck was connecting to her in the first place. Before corona, I expected these connections to come readily. I no longer do. There is no perfect time for connection, no perfect time for anything. The virus has reminded us things aren’t always slow to change. Time sprints. The corona virus is the Usain Bolt of sprinters, and has left us in the dust. Time to lace up our running shoes.


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