Chronicles of a grant writer in the time of social distancing — Week 7

April 27

We have been social distancing for so long now that it is both “normal” and also surprisingly hard to maintain. Because today was sunny and beautiful, our family went for a lunch-time walk. I was practically giddy, and the improved weather made me momentarily forget that we are still under the ominous threat of a pandemic. 

And, really, when I say I forgot, I just mean that COVID-19 wasn’t pervading my thoughts the way it often does. My family continued social distancing, just without the emotional weight.

Even though our society has become unexpectedly adept at social distancing, there are limits to how long this can go on. It takes constant awareness to stay six feet away from others and to remember to wear a mask to go shopping, and wash our hands frequently (though that last piece of vigilance should become standard practice, and should have been already). It’s human nature to become more lax about these things. While there are signs that the levels of infection are beginning to abate, we are still in a phase in which it is critical that we maintain necessary precautions.

On the other hand, the phenomenon of “corona shaming” (embarrassing those who don’t appear to comply with social distancing) is pointless and destructive. Before we began social distancing, I had serious doubts about whether a significant portion of our society would comply with official recommendations. However, with widespread closures, and public education about the seriousness of this illness, people have been much more compliant than I would ever have imagined. Yes, there are those who are not complying, and that’s not insignificant because every social contact can help to spread the virus, but all around the world, people have come together (by staying apart) in ways I could not have imagined, despite the economic and emotional toll of doing so. 

As for those who are not complying, unless you are a public health official or other person charged with enforcing social distancing, I suggest that, at most, you offer friendly guidance to those who would be receptive about how to social distance, call the police for truly egregious violations, and otherwise stop focusing your energy on those who are not doing what’s right. If you think about all the things that are going wrong, and all the people who are not complying, you will go crazy. As a society we are not going to do this perfectly, and no one ever suggested that we would, but in addition to observing the restrictions on our own, we need a certain amount of generosity of spirit toward others to help us get through this. 

April 28

I have never known real food insecurity. I am incredibly fortunate that all my life, even when my family experienced financial difficulties, we never had an empty cupboard and fridge. We never had to wonder if we would be able to buy the food we needed.

While I have tried throughout my life to appreciate this good fortune, living through COVID-19 has given me my first real glimmer of understanding of what it means to be food insecure. Because of shoppers who hoarded various items, when we have gone shopping in recent weeks, we have done so with the knowledge that we might not be able to purchase things we want or need. In addition, we are limiting the number of times we shop and therefore learning to be a little more creative in making meals and substituting ingredients that are available at home, rather than making unnecessary trips to the store. 

This experience has shown me how very spoiled we have been. My whole adult life, I’ve cooked with the knowledge that I can run to the store if I find I have forgotten an ingredient for a recipe. With rare exceptions for special occasions, I have never had to worry that the stores would have the things I planned to buy, or if I could afford them.

Living through COVID-19 in good health and comparative luxury, I can begin to understand the pervasive stress of not knowing how or if one will be able to feed his/her family. It’s terrifying. And those who are truly food insecure are feeling the impact of this pandemic much more brutally than the rest of us.

My grandparents were young adults during the Great Depression. For the rest of their lives, they were extremely careful to never waste anything, especially food. While I have always aspired to minimize waste, with the busyness of family life, I have found that we end up wasting a lot more than I prefer. However, one bright spot of this experience is that I am paying closer to attention to how much we actually need, not just what we want. We are eating more leftovers, and cooking smaller portions. Again, we are grateful that this is not a financial decision. Rather, it is a recognition of the scarcity in our food chain, and the importance of not wasting. Instead of making one meal from a package of meat or chicken, in which at least one serving goes to waste, on a few occasions, we’ve cooked half the fresh meat, and frozen the rest to prepare another meal. This is good for us, the environment, and our fellow consumers. I hope this new focus on minimizing waste becomes a permanent facet of our family life.

If you live in Squirrel Hill and are experiencing food insecurity, please contact the JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry.

April 29

It’s a beautiful day in Pittsburgh, my kids’ school has helped our family remember to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day today (Yom Ha’aztmaut), and we are beginning to see the first signs of the economy gradually opening up. It feels like hope is returning, and so I have decided to be radically positive in my posting today.

I enjoy the environmental observations of NYTimes columnist Margaret Renkl. This week, she wrote about nature’s apparent resurgence during social distancing. With fewer cars and humans afoot, it is quieter and safer for animals to venture forth. The air is cleaner, the sky bluer. Renkl is careful to point out that none of these positive developments in any way represent a reversal of climate change, but she counsels us to think about our relationship with the natural world and see what we can do to reduce our negative impact.

Thinking about this suggestion, I have realized that now is a great time to think about what is possible. What are the things we can do to make our environment cleaner and safer for plants, animals, and humans? While by and large social distancing has been hugely inconvenient and in some ways devastating, it has also shown us what we are capable of when we work together (even when we are working individually because we can’t be physically close). During this time, great minds all over the world have come up with incredibly creative ideas to help people continue important services remotely, and this same creative brilliance can be used to come up with solutions to our climate crisis.

Throughout this experience, I have been amazed at the resilience of humanity. Over millennia, the human race has learned to adapt to horrible conditions, and has survived harrowing experiences. We have learned from these experiences, and found ways to prevent them from recurring. We can do that again. It’s time to shake off our malaise of believing that we have arrived and achieved the zenith of existence. Perhaps we have in some ways, but we have done so at the expense of harming our beautiful world. It’s time to change our behavior, in ways that may be inconvenient and difficult, so that we can create a future that is healthier for all of us.

April 30

I find that between getting my kids ready for their day of school from home, helping them deal with tech issues, and trying to settle in for my work day, I have a pounding headache by 10 a.m. (My husband does too.) In some ways, adjusting to the routine has made it easier, but in other ways, the fatigue of multi-tasking gets worse over time. The last couple of days, I have found it especially hard to focus on work. However, I am amazed that at the end of each day I am somehow, miraculously, continuing to make progress on work projects, even if the pace and quality are not what I would prefer.

Sometimes I feel guilty about being distracted, but I try to remind myself that I get distracted plenty when I am in my office at work, so I just have to continue doing the best I can.

The roller coaster of emotions of this pandemic continue to fluctuate between hope, despair, anxiety, and frustration. It’s a toxic brew. While I welcome the impending, gradual openings of various services, I also worry about things getting worse again, and needing to return to social distancing. I keep reminding myself that no one knows the future, and not to put too much stock in predictions, but also to stay the course of continuing to follow the recommendations of health officials. Yesterday, I was feeling radically positive. Today, I’m struggling to stay on task. It’s what’s to be expected in these challenging times.


Comments are closed.

Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

Follow Susan Jablow