If you think this crisis is hard to endure, consider this: you could be in Texas, like our Austin Bureau Chief, Caren Jeskey. Her report:
Today Texas is positively rampant with COVID-19. This week we learned that 85 babies in Nueces County have tested positive since March— 60 of them in the month of July. Over 4,000 Texans have died.
The first phase of virus life for me was to shelter in place, other than shopping for essentials and exercising outdoors. The streets and sidewalks were all but deserted. I forgot about the world and got lost in hours-long, rambling walkabouts. I automatically beelined away from the small number of folks who passed me by, unless they yielded first. It was easy. Then businesses started opening again, first to 25% capacity and then increasing to 50% or even more, which gave people a false sense of security. Restless, bored Texans decided they were done with the rules and started living as though the virus was over. Once calming and peaceful walks in the early virus ghost town days turned into minefields where it was impossible to get away from obstinate people who have vetoed the idea of playing it safe.
While I was on a walk earlier this week most neighbors in my eclectic, trendy, middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhood were not masked or making any effort to distance. Within five minutes of leaving my house these pod people had descended into my safety zone. I peered at them from the top of my masked face and their bald faces stared back. I threw my arms in the air and called out to a neighbor I know “no one is distancing!” and then I heard myself growl. A young woman ran by, and I felt her breeze as she passed within a foot or two of me. I called out “can you please distance or at least wear a mask?” She flipped me the bird and yelled back “you were in my way.” We were on a pedestrian/bike path. My blood boiled and I also felt sad. I could feel tears well up as I processed this assault.
I realized I had to get away and turned off the path onto a side street towards a sleepier neighborhood with huge houses and wide roads where I knew I’d be safer. On my way there an unmasked man rode up to me on his bicycle, sneezed in my face, and cackled. I held my phone up, pretending to film him (I was too shocked to think clearly enough to hit record) and he biked away, still laughing.
On July 4th a group of people gathered at the State Capitol for what they christened a “Shed the Mask, Don the Flag” rally. Since all of this can wear a sane person down, I have officially decided to stop fighting and instead I will yield.
Along with the increasing challenges and frustrations of life with COVID, many things have changed for the better. I was allowed to spend time as the solo guest in the Elisabet Ney museum, which I discovered on an early walkabout and wrote about in an EGD post Badass Women. I shared the blog post with the docent there and as a result was invited in. Up until that day I’d only been able to see the faces of a striking stone woman (Lady MacBeth) and the chiseled profile of a bearded man (Prometheus) through a window. Once inside I silently walked up the narrow wooden staircase Elisabet had once walked. I felt her power. I visited with her immense stone and marble creations and basked in the presence of a woman who created magic during her life.
I’ve worn holes into the soles of my Birkenstocks. The pounds are slipping away according to the scale I am no longer afraid to stand on each morning.
As I write this I feel grateful. Even as the shadow of death is all around us, thus far I am safe. I am not a front line worker. I do not have to take buses to and from work. I do not have to stand at a counter and serve customers who refuse to wear masks. The fact that all of this might change in a blink of an eye, or in the spray of a sneeze is not lost on me.