THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
Nineteen years ago when I was moving from Atlanta to London, I recall my sister saying through tears, “What will you do if something happens and you need us?” Well, it has happened and I do need my family more than ever. And to my surprise, video chats and social media have brought us closer together than we have been in years. I didn’t know that my brother and I had such similar senses of humor and his regular phone calls seem to come exactly when I need to talk. It doesn’t matter how close or near my family is, the fact is, we cannot be together. It all still seems like science fiction but it has become the new normal. I am no longer waking up wondering if it is really happening and am adapting to the enormity of the life changes.
This is our fourth week in isolation and I have traveled hundreds of mental miles, typed so much that I have pain in my left hand and am working diligently to keep my family afloat. My husband is at high risk, having recently undergone chemotherapy, and along with our teenager son, we locked down. Now I see why people have more than one child! We could really do with a sibling for him and I have considered a loaner cat or dog. My job title shifted only slightly as I am a freelancer and run the home anyway so am I skilled to cook and clean but nothing prepared me for the psychological plump needed to support my family and endure the highs and lows.
I write this from my bed, my square of comfort, contemplation and solitude and from here I have: racked up hours on social media; critically reviewed my diligence in sanitizing deliveries; eaten spaghetti bolognese; imagined a fever and breathing issues; and had video conversations with friends, overriding my shameful vanity and appearing with no make up. I am aware that this time of stillness and closeness will most likely never happen again in my lifetime. In bright red neon opportunity is flashing and it is an optimum time to discard the behaviors and parts of myself that I don’t like so much. The time is now, there has never been a better time then now for reinvention. I have been stripped back to my base person recognizing strengths in areas that I didn’t know existed and noticing areas that need improvement.
I feel that in some way I have been prepping for this my whole life. I have always been a stockist, never running out of gas, milk, feminine hygiene products, ice or tonic water, and “just in case” is a life mantra. Growing up American I watched WWII footage, heard my father’s stories from the Korean war and played in disused bomb shelters in peoples back yards very aware that life as I knew it could all be taken away in seconds. I grew up without abundance and as I harnessed spending power I went the other way and am quite the consumer, a reckless weakness that I have been trying to curtail. I recognize that now is a good time to stop accumulating unnecessarily. At the onset of COVID-19, I did stock tins of beans, hand wash, Nag Champa incense, soy sauce, margarita mix, Kiehls moisturizer (there’s the vanity again), M&S Percy Pigs. I also panic-bought a yurt - yes, a yurt - thinking that if mom and dad had to be inside, our son could have friends over outside in the yurt. Non-logical thinking maybe, but it might still have its use.
Some of my American friends in London are “preppers” with stocks of canned foods, gas masks, water purification systems. One friend has even taken an off-road driving course – useful if a nifty scramble off the grid is necessary. They know that white rice can last twenty years and raw stock honey if packaged well will never go off. No one is laughing at them now.
I believe that we only need three of most things, excluding things such as underwear (two weeks worth), batteries, savings, prescriptions, anecdotes, memories, music, books, friends, bandwidth, home entertainment, and conversations. Most importantly for the soul is Hope, one thing we simply cannot live without.
Today all of our skill sets are being called to use. My husband who was once a hairdresser, has cut my son’s hair and applied my hair color (I know, very lucky - and there it is again, that vanity). All of the ‘ings’ must be done; cooking, cleaning, gardening, ironing, coaching, caring, washing, exercising, tutoring. I am grateful to my parents that I learned how to do all of the ings growing up and we are teaching our son how to ing as well. He put the Marigold gloves on and he cleaned his bathroom with less protest than expected spraying me with water, it was actually fun. He has learned how to cook Thai Red Curry. We gave him his first driving lesson too, and more is on the list but he has retreated to gaming - we might have lost him for a bit. It has been difficult for him, and I hope that we have shown fortitude and calm, but I mustn’t be smug, we have a long haul ahead and the path ahead unknown. There are still wet towels on the bed and there are late night kitchen raids leaving behind crumbs that don’t seem to matter like they used to. Us together whole is all that counts. I am aware that this experience will stay with him forever.
I have had some very low moments, fear producing and debilitating. I have had broken sleep and some times wake up between 3:30-4:30am (seems to be the time for many) I have called on one friend in particular, another American living in Britain so no time change concerns. I have called her twice in a state, she calmed me and listened. I had been reluctant to call but thank heavens I did, our friendship has deepened and I am eternally grateful. I am not religious but have found myself praying regularly. We sadly have two family members fighting the virus. I pray for people who have been left damaged and lost loved ones and for those who are struggling. It is terrifying seeing the footage of the front line and I am in awe of the NHS and how Britain’s healthcare is centralized and united, it feels very different to what’s happening in the States. Each country has prioritized and handled the crisis with variance and the commonality is the courage of humans.
The word courage is often broken down into types of courage; Physical, Social, Intellectual, Moral, Emotional and Spiritual. We all are practitioners of courage in some way and we can do all sized things daily to make a difference.
Some of our ideas:
• A foot massage is a tremendous offering
• Groom your animals, it’s cathartic
• Send gifts to loved ones - I sent my nephews wearable blankets
• Buy a windowsill gardening kit
• Wake up and listen to music, not the news - buy a digital radio
• Teach your children how to “ing” - cook, clean, drive, plant, iron, sew, repair, wash
• Do a hair mask and sit in the sun
• Interview elders and write down some of their stories
• Video Trivia nights
• Flip your mattress
• Watch the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies
• Buy a ukulele or banjo – and play it!
• Use Notes on your phone (or other) and journal what you are doing and how you are feeling
• Write thank you emails to people who have done nice things for you, even if it was 20 years ago
• Create a spreadsheet of your incoming and outgoings
• Write your Will
• If you haven’t already, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom,House Party with family and friends
• Buy a memory stick that amalgamates all of your photos from devices; make photo books; Dig out old pictures and email to friends
• Show the kids your wedding video
• Read James Joyce’s Ulysses - just kidding!!! Start a book club with friends, reading then sharing thoughts
• Live in gratitude
Essential Weekly Reads for Overseas Americans. Free