If it seems strange that I feel like the luckiest human being on earth in the midst of a pandemic, well, color me strange, and a little conflicted.
But at some level, this feels like a moment for which I’ve been preparing my whole life. There are reasons for this, reasons I wouldn’t necessarily wish on another person.
For those who’ve studied it and especially those who’ve lived it, Jewish history is basically a study in uncertainty. Most of us are hardwired for anxiety, a constant low-level hum reminding us to be aware that this might be the last moment before the rug is pulled out from under our lives.
In my family, the moment was 46 years ago. When I was 14 and my sister 13, our father, the Reform rabbi in our community, went missing on Erev Purim. For the next seven weeks, we lived in a state of semi-stasis. To call it a brutal training ground for how to coexist with impending catastrophe is probably an understatement. Dad’s yahrzeit has always been a season. This year, I noted to my sister, it feels as if the whole world is in it with us.
Then, there’s the economic reality.
None of us knew, when we closed the library on March 14, that we wouldn’t open to the public on Monday. At the staff meeting, where we all stood several feet apart, our manager laid out our options, which, for the librarians, included working from home. I finished the huge weeding project I’d started months before, collected everything from my locker, and boxed up my files.
Being able to work from home is part gift, part blessing and part miracle. I’ve done it before. But this is the first time I’ve ever known I was going to be paid and when. (Freelance journalism isn’t the most dependable way to make a living.) I worked long and hard to be in a position where luck and opportunity might meet. This is the first time in my life it’s happened.
So, between connecting people with resources and good information, using social media as my reference desk, I’m taking some online courses and training seminars and doing program preparation.
My husband is still going to work (as of Chronicle press time), so the shape of our morning routine during the week is unchanged. We get up, I make him lunch, he leaves. I get some work done, then take the dog for her daily constitutional. We’ve been going to the same cemetery for years. It’s big and she can run while I walk. Turns out, it’s also a great place to maintain social distance.
As far as supplies, being raised by parents who grew up food-insecure during the Depression turns out to have some benefits. Neither my sister or I are as extreme as our parents, but we also didn’t need to do any panic shopping. The same, as it turns out, goes for some of my friends whose parents and grandparents survived the Shoah. Turns out generational trauma has its upside. (Who knew?)
So, what to do with these blessings? That’s easy. So many people in my life were so generous in so many ways when I was going through rough times. Now, I’m in a position to pay some of their generosity forward.
Do you have a friend whose business has tanked because of this mess? Shoot them a gift card for groceries or gas. Even if they’ve got some savings, the love behind it will matter. Do you like food? Order take-out from a local restaurant and help keep it going until it can reopen. Do you know anyone with kids home from school? See if you’ve got some old supplies or materials around that they can use to stay occupied.
This is a moment when, taking care of ourselves while physically separated, it’s important to remember that we are a community. It’s our moment to step up and care for each another. Which someone way smarter than I am said first, long ago, and more eloquently:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me. If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”
In health, in strength, in community,
Amy Waldman is a regular writer for the Chronicle. She lives in Milwaukee.