March 15, 2020
Welcome to the first official issue of Metaforia! Thanks for subscribing. I hope and plan to come to you weekly. The content of this newsletter will be a creative work in progress, but one thing is highly likely: most of them will be a little lighter than this one. But I wanted to share this memory on its first anniversary, partly just to record it, and also in hopes that it might speak to something in you.
TW: Pandemic anniversary stuff.
I am leaning against a wall at the Baltimore airport. I’m not wearing a mask, but some other people are. Are they overreacting? Or should I be wearing a mask? For now, I’m just doing what I’d do in any situation where I’m trying not to catch someone’s contagion. I’m keeping my distance — that’s why I’m against the wall, on the far side of the terminal walkway, rather than sitting in the chairs at my gate.
But that’s not the only reason I’m against the wall. I’m also charging my phone. This stupid phone is getting old and needs charging multiple times a day anyway, but also I’m about to get on a cross-country flight back to Los Angeles — west, the slow direction — so I’m going to need a charge. I’m going to want podcasts or music to distract me from all the quiet chaos of this moment. Maybe I’ll watch a movie.
All weekend long, I have been petrified that the airports would suddenly be closed, like they were after 9/11. Then I would be stuck in Maryland with only a weekend’s worth of clothes and a broken laptop charger (lots of charger problems at the moment; when did a full battery become the most important element of 21st century life?). But the biggest reason I don’t want to be stuck on the East coast is that I am supposed to be at work on Monday, and big things are happening at work. What if I miss the big things and then my career is ruined…somehow?
If not for these factors, being stuck would be a blessing. I’m staying with one of my oldest, dearest friends in her new house — a house which seems impossibly huge to me, coming as I am from the city walkup I share with two other adult housemates. My friend, her husband, and perhaps most importantly, their 18-month-old son — my godson, who, because of how far away I live, I have only seen once before in his life, when he was barely 2 months old.
Maybe I should have prayed for flights to be cancelled. Then I’d have been stuck in Maryland, in a home, with a family, watching my godson grow up. But this is a thought that won’t occur to me for several months yet.
We debated, my friend and I, whether this whole trip should be cancelled. When the NBA announced they were cutting the season short, we knew things had gotten serious. We’d both grown up in Jordan-era Chicagoland and were finely attuned to the sacredness of the professional basketball calendar. But we’d already postponed the trip twice, and both times for gut-wrenching, family-tragedy reasons. What if we cancelled this trip out of paranoid caution and it turned out to be nothing? That would be one more tragedy on the tragedy pile. So we said, if they don’t cancel my flight out, I’ll be on that plane. Let the airlines decide.
If it was not the best trip of my life, it is only because of how much of it we spent watching CNN and trying to decide how much to panic. Should we cancel our outing to IKEA? Should we not dine out? We came home from a day of wary shopping to news that restaurants and bars in Chicago would be closing down for a few weeks. Well, that was new. On the other hand, my godson and I had posed for a photo in front of a used book store. The sign said “ENTER HERE IF YOU LOVE BOOKS AND MOVIES.” It’s a great photo, both of us smiling so genuinely. I read him bedtime stories. We watched FROZEN 2. This was important, this time together. If not for him, then at least for me.
My flight home was not cancelled. All that low-grade panic, wasted, as worry typically is. How sweet that would be: if merely knowing that worry was a waste of energy was enough to make us give up the habit.
I hunch awkwardly over my charging phone. I’m at least 15 feet away from anyone. The distance has an added benefit, not related to disease prevention: I am secretly at church and hoping not to be too conspicuous about it. It’s Sunday night, and my church has been trying to get some kind of online service going, as we haven’t been allowed into the sanctuary since our rector was diagnosed with the virus. We don’t know yet that we’re just a couple weeks ahead of every other church in LA County. This is the first broadcast of a service of evening prayer. I feel like I need a prayer this evening.
God, please let my flight get off the ground tonight.
Lord, please keep us from getting each other sick.
Father, help us not to panic — help me not to panic.
Mother, let this trip have been the right decision.
At the appointed time toward the end of the service, I cross myself. I instantly remember where I am wonder if anybody noticed. It makes me laugh, to imagine how I might look to anyone else in the terminal. Would they see me as some hunkered down, praying lady desperately performing my little ritual in hopes that we make it through all this?
I’m not sure why I’m laughing. In a way, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Did it work? Well, I made it home. I didn’t get sick. My career wasn’t ruined, though it was thoroughly changed. The trip had been a very good idea, in retrospect.
And we – those of us telling our grim anniversary stories, those of us hearing them – we have made it through; almost all the way now. The praying continues, as it always will.