A pandemic journal
The Dummerston Church offered a message in March 2020, as the region girded for the arrival of COVID-19.

A pandemic journal

“To live through this deadly Covid pandemic and all of its variants, we’ve decided to practice being creative, being confident, and being compassionate”

NEWFANE — My daughter in California asked: “What would you like your future generations to know about your experience of living through the Covid pandemic of 2020?”

I am not sure my future generations will be all that interested in knowing about my living through the pandemic, assuming I will.

But I'll do my best.

* * *

1. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic was a surprise. Every day is a surprise, actually, when you think about it. For most of us, just looking up and consciously noticing the orb of our star, the sun, rising or setting each day above us, giving life to us and the entire planet, is often a surprise to most.

We are creatures of our own habits and, like a reptile, we are so used to following those habits that our daily or weekly routines become almost unconscious - even religious - and can define our everyday reality.

So we can often end up being surprised, irritated, inconvenienced, unhappy, fearful, and even angry by any dramatic change to our perceived normalcy and to those habits we hold dear, although we might not be conscious of them.

A contagious worldwide deadly viral pandemic, sweeping around the Earth, spreading, and killing millions of people, should be - if not somewhat expected from our human interaction and exploitation of the natural world - at least predicted as plausible.

Nonetheless, it was a total surprise to me!

It was March of 2020 before I heard anything about this pandemic. By that time, COVID-19 was said to have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Europe and Asia, and it was said to be spread by unsuspecting tourists on cruise ships.

Surprisingly, no one seemed to know exactly how it had made its way to North America and, according to the VTDigger online news report, it was even here in the Green Mountain State.

This whole pandemic thing seemed almost unbelievable to me at first, like some scary hit R-rated movie that everyone was talking about.

My mind was flooded with questions: What was this newly released COVID-19 about, anyway? Where did it come from? How were people dying from it? How fast was it spreading? Was the military involved? Was it here, threatening us now? Who would be most negatively affected by it? How would we protect ourselves?

Our local, state, and federal government agencies, elected officials, physicians, hospitals, and emergency services seemed as surprised as I was. They were definitely unable to accurately answer my questions about this phenomenon with any apparent confidence.

* * *

2. The law of simplicity. This theory proposes that the whole of an object, or reality, is more important than its individual parts.

Within a few weeks, numbers of real people were dying of Covid all over the country, like flies in winter. That was a reality. Most of them were reportedly from faraway, large metropolitan cities. When these deaths were reported, they did not seem real, because they are merely statistics and numbers, not names.

But two identical twin brothers - both fathers, both known and loved by lots of neighbors here and in our adjacent small towns - got sick and died from being exposed to the Coronavirus by one of their family members. Only then did my husband John and I, both of us stunned deeply, awaken into action.

Reality, once faced, could not be denied. We knew that action simply must take place.

* * *

3. Settling in, waking up, and creating a plan. By April of 2020, it became obvious that a challenge had been laid down before us. How could we avoid exposing ourselves and our neighbors to this virus? That became our objective, our plan.

I immediately reduced my essential worker hours to one five-hour day shift per week at the Brattleboro Food Co-op to lessen my exposure.

I spent hours a day researching online at home, reading and learning as much as I could about how other people in other countries were being successful (or not) in keeping the virus outbreaks in check and contamination statistics down. How were they doing so? What methods were they using?

The most common method I found, after reading posts from several European countries and cities, was to require every person leaving isolation and quarantine to wear a mask over their nose and mouth in public.

In some towns and cities, this mandate was reinforced by police action and by government officials. Along with wearing a mask, washing and sanitizing hands were required before and after using public transportation and entering a public space wherever they went.

Statistical reasoning behind this protocol was shared. I did not read anywhere in those European countries that the citizenry at large rebelled against these rules. I was so impressed by stats in some areas of Poland where the government agencies had recruited local women to make protective masks at home, and paid them to do so. They were required to freely give these masks to health-care workers, essential workers, shopkeepers, friends, neighbors, and to the police.

With a little effort, I found several local groups (mostly women) right here in southern Vermont and New Hampshire who were also sewing masks at home, at their own expense, and giving them to anybody who wanted one. I decided to join a group, even though I had given my sewing machine away years ago.

I volunteered to become an online coordinator, with a job to identify people, businesses, hospitals, health care workers, schools, food workers - anyone, actually, who wanted free masks. I was to take their orders and then feed that information to the mask makers. I also solicited materials, purchasing some myself, to be dropped off for them.

The biggest crisis or stumbling block the mask makers faced early on was an acute shortage of elastic - hard to believe, but there it was. For several weeks, we all started to seek out some sort of elastic black market, but I do not know if that was very successful.

Until elastic could be found again, the mask makers came up with ingenious designs where masks tie behind and on top of your head with cloth-made ties, and masks that tie with small cords behind your ears.

All in all, we gave out hundreds - dare I say, thousands - of handmade cloth masks, some even made with filters tucked between the two cloth layers in front. All of these masks, even large deliveries to nursing homes and hospitals, were free to the wearer. It was a great spontaneous effort on behalf of a number of talented and caring people in our area.

John's plan for the Dover Free Library involved closing the building to the public and disinfecting every book, magazine, tape, chair, countertop; every shelf, table, file; every and all of the spaces in the building. He managed curbside pickup and the return of books by himself, and he coordinated with the state's requirements for the eventual and inevitable reopening of the building ... someday.

Both of his employees were sent home with paychecks, as he negotiated with the library trustees and received approval to keep them on the payroll during this emergency.

My maternal grandmother, Maude Carroll Galbreaith, used to tell me to always remember, and practice the “give away.”

“Remember to always take a gift to someone you visit, and never let anyone leave you without giving them a gift as they go,” she would say.

* * *

4. The long-haul challenge, or life without toilet paper: I realize fear is a powerful emotion that we all have experienced at one time or another. Fear is a normal reaction to a lot of things. During this pandemic, we can even be experiencing it in some form or another chronically.

Fear is a feeling that can also be helpful to us, as long as we are not overwhelmed by it - as long as we do not go berserk and do things that can harm us or others.

Having so much fear of running out of toilet paper - or other paper goods, of parking spaces, of wipes, of beer, of bread, of canned food, or of wine - that it creates panic and hoarding is an overreaction, which I do find a bit scary myself.

Hoarding and the compulsive “me first” attitude in human behavior can multiply and generate fear responses in others.

The fear of having to stay home all the time - or of kids not going to school and losing their education and work opportunities, of not being able to see your parents or your friends, of not being able to travel or fly in airplanes, or of going into a restaurant and eating a meal in public, or of enjoying any number of ways of life before Covid-19 - might seem overwhelming to think about. So the long-haul challenge and remedy is to not think about it.

Fear is often fed by over-thinking about it. Breathe in and breathe out, slowly and deeply, and believe - even know and trust - that we are going to be OK.

We are being good soldiers through this campaign. Practice doing everything that will help to keep you, your family, and your neighbors safe and well. All of us sharing and caring for one another - while following our health care professional's advice and your plan - is what will see us through this significant challenge and hard time.

This was our mindset through COVID-19: “This, too, shall pass.”

“Ride the wave, don't fight it.”

“All things are impermanent.”

“None of us can ever know for sure what the outcome of anything will be in the future, so let's love each other, breathe, and be happy now.”

“Relax. You can always wipe yourself with a paper towel, leaves, or an old washcloth.”

To live through this deadly Covid pandemic and all of its variants, we've decided to practice being creative, being confident, and being compassionate.

After all, we and the whole world are all in this together.

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