Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coping with the Quarantine, One Laugh at a Time

Mindfulness is made easy these days, as I'm forced, like so many, to take one day, one hour, at a time. I pay attention to each thing I do and know I can't make plans for next month or even the summer. I must live fully in the present. I must be grateful to have electricity and adequate food and people who call or write to see if they can help.

I refuse to worry or be depressed or bored. My emails are filled with useful distractions from the news, everything from scenic views to cat cartoons to ideas about freezing eggs (for reasons unknown). I take delight in little things, like the afternoon sun coming through my bathroom window as I wash my hands for the thousandth time, trusting I am germ free.

I watch waterfalls on Youtube as I meditate, then read blogs like the one by Mark Forsyth, who cites a book on the history of toilet paper.  I follow the news from Rome and listen to a Jesuit podcast from St. Louis University, my alma mater, and listen to Andrew Cuomo. A local newsletter keeps me abreast of recent burglaries. My next-door neighbor comes by with three boxes of Kleenex and we are thrilled. I phone a neighbor isolated in a nursing home (no visitors allowed now). We find restaurants eager to deliver dinners to our door. My days have become full of little surprises. There is no time for boredom.

I receive emails from Richard Rohr reminding me that my life is not about me, that I am not in control of my life, but I already know that, don't I, from this experience of quarantine?  I then read in a blog from Maria Popova, quoting a philosopher, that self-love is the key to a sane society and I smile.... I forward an article about baseball to a friend in Virginia, and he reports on his reading.... I think about Etty Hillesum, a radiant spirit who faced the Holocaust, and find to my surprise that two Jewish friends never heard of her.... A former student in Alabama sends me an article on Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy was once an indispensable spiritual guide....A cousin in Chicago writes to see how we are in Florida. I keep finding, to my delight, that I am connected to everyone else, as we all face the crisis together.

I get the best help from humor, trying not to feel guilty by making light of a world-wide tragedy. But the quarantine experience itself calls out for therapeutic laughter.  A recent joke sent to me:  Our cleaning lady is now working from home but is sending us instructions.  Another: Gas/petrol is cheaper now, but there's no place to go.

An newspaper article reminds me that we need laughter to relax the brain. For comedian Erica Rhodes, comedy is a means of survival. "How's everybody not doing?" she asks.

She reminds us that sickness and death and an uncertain future are no laughing matters, yet how did my parents survive the Great Depression without comedy?  Is laughter merely escapism, like looking at cat videos?  How much grim news can I take in?

Dogs, I think, are having a great time now, with all the walking going on around me, and people are getting more exercise than ever. People are praying, reading, doing crosswords as never before, and reaching out to elderly neighbors. For those old enough to remember WWII, they know it's hard but that we will survive, and that a bit of gallows humor is essential.

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