Life on pause in a strange, new world

Published 12:15 pm Friday, April 24, 2020

It’s often lonely in the morning as I walk to work from my home on Race Street to the Elizabethton STAR. The traffic is stirring, but there are stretches of time on both Broad Street and Sycamore Street that there are no cars. No school buses backing up traffic as they pause to pick up passengers. The rare bicyclist pedals at the side, no longer nervously glancing behind to ensure he will not be forced to stop by a line of vehicles eager to get…somewhere. A lone woman walks her dog west on Cottage Avenue. Then the sidewalk stretches for blocks. Empty.
It is a strange world, this world molded by COVID-19. The isolation of workers and families has left not only an emptiness in our streets, but emptiness in our daily lives.
This is true for those of us who work at and call the Elizabethton STAR “home” as well. With the shuttering of our office a month ago in compliance with the governor’s directive to “Stay Safe – Stay Home,” some of our employees have been working from homes. Others of us still come to the office and maintain social distancing.
It is a time that we cannot visit loved ones in the hospital or nursing homes. We cannot celebrate or mourn, we cannot console each other’s losses as we had just a month or six weeks ago. Our church doors have been closed for well over a month, as Sunday sermons are now streamed lived over the Internet. We try to maintain contact with church friends via telephone, cards, etc.
School children are now home-schoolers, doing their homework on the computer. One teacher worries about her students, many of whom do not have access to a computer nor perhaps has no one to encourage them to continue their studies. She worries they will not be prepared for next year’s classes.
Then, there are seniors, who are missing out on proms, awards day, and graduation; the athletes, who have had to forego spring sports. So much has changed about school, all because of a rude virus called COVID-19.
Our parks and playgrounds are empty. The sound of laughter from a child swinging or running in the park has been quietened by the virus.
Many businesses have been shuttered, including beauty shops and barber shops, causing one teenage boy to snicker as he thought out loud: “People’s true colors are soon going to show,” meaning their hair is beginning to show its natural color from lack of coloring. Women lament that they cannot get a perm or a hair cut.
At the grocery store, some shelves are empty — no toilet paper, Lysol spray, hand sanitizer, etc. Instead, there are people walking around with masks over their noses and mouths. Some even have gloves to protect them from the COVID-19 germs. Over and over we are told to social distance, wash our hands, and to stay at home.
The touch we crave is put on hold, our fear of unwittingly sharing a deadly virus overriding our natural instincts to comfort in bear hugs, to embrace the people we know. Those we love are held only in our hands, our cell phones alight with photos and videos.
It is a world of hardships, but one that we respect, knowing that not to do so could mean calamity for ourselves, our town.
We are thankful, very thankful that the number of confirmed cases in our county is only six, and only one death. At last count, three of those people had recovered. As we watch the COVID-19 news each day on TV, we watch the numbers tick up — those afflicted and those who have succumbed to the monster virus. We have no names or faces to put to the afflicted or to the dead. Many of the dead are being kept in refrigerated trucks, others placed in a mass grave in a potter’s field on a lonely island in New York. Such a lonely way to go. It’s as though they never really had a name or mattered to anyone.
Coronavirus has become a reality. We reel with the realization that this, for the time being, is our universe.
In this darkness, though, how lovely to know that Elizabethton and Carter County residents as well as people from the east coast to the west coast, from north to south,  continue to reach out to each other as best can be done in this age of social distancing. They call friends and the elderly to check on each other, they make face masks for health care workers, they feed the hungry, with hearts of gratitude they cheer for those on the front lines of this pandemic — the nurses, doctors, EMTs, firemen, and policemen. They even find ways to console each other.
We wait patiently for this plight to pass. If we can recall, in future days, the sense of aloneness, our job will be to see that those who remain alone and lonely are finally offered a chance to pull close another human being, hands clasped, hearts aglow.
Thus far, we have been blessed and able to come to work each day, to write stories, and then go home and check on our neighbors, bake them a cake each Sunday, and sometimes go to the store for them. They are our family, just like the people at the STAR, who we have and continue to work with, and the folks at church, who we long to see and once again hope to lift our hearts together in praise.
Blessings be on each of you, today, and always.

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