Coronavirus, American-style, is a person-by-person work in progress.
We are not all on the same page — as I know from my own personal experience.
State by state, there are social distancing directives, some stricter than others. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker just issued an executive order to close all non-essential businesses, effective March 24 to April 7. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations will remain open. Liquor stores too, as well as medical marijuana dispensaries. Trains and buses will also continue to run.
Today I issued an emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide #COVID19 essential services to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public.— Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) March 23, 2020
🔗FULL DETAILS: https://t.co/S19u4d1QY9 pic.twitter.com/F8JIfRUUzg
But for the same time period, Massachusetts residents are advised — not ordered — to stay home and limit all unnecessary activities. Self-limiting becomes easier with so much closed. But, for me, the definition of necessary has been evolving over time.
Over the past two weeks, I have gone from stubborn resister to reluctant embracer of the coronavirus reality. Why did it take me longer than others? I’m not sure. Maybe because, in sickness and in blizzards, baby boomers show up, no matter what, and “what” includes a pandemic. That’s especially true for those of us in the news business. Also, despite all the dire warnings from experts, I still had trouble accepting the full extent of the threat.
I have been working from home, as instructed, since March 12. But it took a while to enforce social distancing on my own nonwork behavior. On March 13, my husband and I ate pizza at Regina’s in the North End. The next morning, I went to my then-open gym. Afterward, I drove to Groton to see my son, daughter-in-law, and their 5-month-old son. I didn’t touch anyone, but the distance between us probably didn’t equal six feet for the entire visit; they live in fairly tight quarters. The following day, I drove to Boston for what I considered an absolutely essential service — my hair.
Since then, I have mostly kept away from others. Except I did beg my daughter to help me launch the first online class for my Suffolk journalism students. And when my sister-in-law and her husband knocked on our backdoor while they were out for a walk, of course I let them in. Then there was that glass of wine, the required six-foot distance away from a friend.
But the frightening stories out of Italy were a wake-up call. And the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, including the deaths in Massachusetts, forced me to see this moment for what it is. It’s not something to tough out, like a bad cold. It’s a public health crisis that requires all of us to dramatically change our lives in order to save each other.
So now I’m working toward acceptance. Over the weekend, I took two Zoom gym classes and did a Zoom meet-up with family and friends. My only other outings were dog walks and one quick grocery store visit.
But it’s still hard, and during his press conference Monday, Baker put his finger on why. “As we drastically limit social contact, I also sense a loss of purpose," he said. Purpose, he added, is “what drives us” and “fills our soul.”
There’s purpose in getting up and getting dressed, with a plan and destination for the day. There’s purpose in jamming yourself onto a crowded Orange Line train and then listening to a podcast about the latest political developments. There’s purpose in getting off at Haymarket and walking past the familiar, beloved sights of Boston, from the Union Oyster House to Faneuil Hall and the statue of Kevin White. There’s purpose in firing up the laptop on your desk as you sip your coffee and say good morning to colleagues around you.
After work, there’s purpose in connecting with the people you love and care about. But for the moment — as Baker pointed out — there’s an even greater purpose in staying away from them. “Limiting physical and social contact is profoundly purposeful,” said Baker. “Every single act of distance has a purpose.”
In this land of independent thinkers, who by nature and tradition resist being told what to do, that’s a thought that can bring us together — even as it keeps us apart.
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