AN UNPRECEDENTED PAUSE by Ellen Donker
Navigating our world in a viral age
As I finished up the previous issue of Matters Magazine, I was anxious to send the files off to the printer so Rob and I could enjoy a week away with our family. We were going to our favorite place – Sanibel, Florida – to meet up with our three kids, whose colleges miraculously had scheduled spring break during the same week. Coronavirus cases were cropping up in a few places but we weren’t supposed to worry. In fact, one of my acquaintances asked if we were still going to Florida and I couldn’t imagine why not. I felt the question was somewhat alarmist.
During the course of our vacation, the true threat of the virus began to escalate as more people tested positive. Keeping pace with the news, our kids got a series of messages from their colleges. One by one, the schools dropped like a line of dominoes. By the end of our week, Madeline, Timothy and Christian had started to adjust to the idea that they would be spending the rest of their semester taking classes online from home.
The following Monday, March 16, the Maplewood-South Orange school district began distance learning. And a week after that, I took my last visit to the grocery store. Since then, each member of our five-person household has staked out his or her own work zone that offers the best privacy and strongest WiFi signal for streaming Zoom videos. Correspondingly, the kitchen activity has ramped up for continuous feeding 18 out of 24 hours each day.
It still boggles my mind how our existence has shifted so dramatically. Never could I have imagined life would be altered in such a profound way. New York City shut down? Never! Neighbors strolling in front of my house wearing face masks? That’s freaky! Strategizing to ensure adequate groceries to keep my family fed? Seriously?
What was once unthinkable has now become routine. Still, I find it hard to accept that my most basic assumptions about living in the modern world have been proven wrong. Instead, a seemingly far-fetched reality that could form the plot for a compelling dystopian novel has become the new (if temporary) normal: We’re navigating a whole new world.
So far, my nuclear family has stayed healthy and I can’t be thankful enough. During these weeks, we’ve had disappointments, lost income, and scrapped plans. But we’ve also found beauty in our new rhythms. More togetherness (mostly good), new hobbies (Christian is perfecting his recipe for kombucha tea), renewed appreciation for beans (as the pantry has emptied out) and contentedness in a less-is-more existence.
Through all of this, the business of Matters Magazine has continued. I’ve tried to imagine what our residents would want to read in the middle of a crisis and it seems pretty clear: Now more than ever, we need good news about this remarkable community…which happens to be our mission to begin with.
It’s easy to feel blue with so much difficult and negative news in our midst. We mourn for those who have lost loved ones or are on the edge financially; we’re heartbroken for our local business owners who have no revenue coming in. And we pray for resilience for our frontline workers.
At the same time, though, we must also make room to celebrate the positive. As such, we offer you this collection of stories. Let them remind you that our community is strong and creative and resourceful and beautiful. And believe, as we do, that our collective strength will bring us through this crisis. We look forward to being together again soon.