Creating Online Community in a Time of Masks and Social Distancing
Week #4 Covid-19 in Annapolis, Maryland USA
A couple comes out of their house, while we’re taking a walk, wearing bright colored bandanas that cover their nose and mouth. They look like bandits in an old western movie.
Our eyes meet. “Just going to the convenience store,” they say apologetically. “To get a few things.”
“Are you going to rob the place?” my husband says.
“Yes, your toilet paper or your life,” they answer.
We all have a good laugh and keep walking, keeping our plus six foot distance.
Last week the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. recommended that everyone should use some type of face covering-scarf, handkerchief, or homemade mask-every time they go out. Only 25 percent of the people I see on our walks wear some type of covering over their face.
Outside, I feel that if I keep my 6–10 foot distance from others, I don’t need the mask. But if I go into the Post Office to purchase stamps- a mask and gloves are a good idea. The clerks behind the counter are protected by a plastic barrier and the floor is clearly marked at six foot intervals, but other establishments are not so careful to protect their workers or the customers who enter. At one neighborhood liquor store, you stand outside and they will bring you the six pack of beer you request. At another, customers still crowd in with no clearly demarcated barriers to enforce social distancing.
To combat the isolation, online meetings, classes, and concerts are filling the void. My Pilates coach Stephanie O’Rourke, owner of Chesapeake Pilates in Annapolis, Maryland, keeps thinking of new ways to challenge students without access to the standard Pilates equipment that uses springs and pulleys to keep the body aligned and build strength. Heavy rubber bands and a 2 x 4 piece of wood are a few of the items she has appropriated to invent new exercises. I am reminded of my old ballet work-outs at the bar, as I rest my hands on the back of a chair and balance my toes on the 2 X 4, bending my knees. After a class is over, a number of the students continue to check-in with each other to talk not only about exercise, but about life in general. We all offer condolences to one of our classmates Jan, who shares that her dog has died. My words feel hollow when what I would like to do is give her a hug, now an impossibility. Jan no longer has her dog and I remember that hollow ache of losing our dog Grace nine years ago. The lingering loneliness. My current dog Chloe comes in to the room to lay near me and I give her a hug.
The first Saturday of each month, a dozen drummers accompany instructor Lauren Kelly-Washington as she teaches a BLis Moves Dance Workshop in Annapolis-it’s become an institution. This April, with the Ridgely Retreat Studio closed due to Covid-19, Lauren offered the class on Facebook Live. In the studio, percussive music is improvised as the dancers are inspired by the drummers and the drummers by the dancers. With no group of drummers, Lauren’s family made the music and I danced in my living room. We virtually joined hands together, by facing our palm forward to the computer screen.
My favorable online experiences inspired me to invite my Stonecoast MFA colleagues to come meet online and it gave us a chance to check-in and discuss what we’d been writing or not writing since graduating in January. It was great to hear everyone read a page or two of their work. On Facebook I’ve been reading postings that feature lots of poems and inspirational quotes. All sorts of local groups have sprung up, some provide updated information on food and supply availability while others focus on ways to support food banks and healthcare workers.
Saturday evening my son Christopher in Virginia organized a virtual family Passover Seder on Zoom. Most of Saturday I prepared the traditional Passover food. I toasted walnuts and diced apples to mix in cinnamon, honey and wine to make the Charoset. I mixed egg, oil, and matzoh into small dumplings for matzo ball soup, and crumpled up matzoh to mix with celery, onion and spices for the stuffing inside two Cornish game hens, the only available poultry at the supermarket on shopping day. No parsley for the Seder Plate either, although I do have horseradish. A piece of onion and a spinach leaf take on the role of bitter and spring vegetables.
The process of cooking as if we were hosting a real Seder, put me into a trance as I remembered all the Seders I have attended since childhood. I recalled the ones at my Aunt Rose’s, conducted entirely in Hebrew, that went on for hours. The chicken was always dry, having waited so long in the oven to be eaten, but the gefilte fish served with beet horseradish -the first course- tasted delicious. I remember the Seders I’ve hosted where each family brought a different dish: potato kugel, tzimmes, honey cake made with matzah meal. Last year, we celebrated a Passover meal with our friends John and Linda Patterson. Now it is just me and my husband Peter sitting at the table. But looking into the computer screen we can see Christopher, his wife Laura and our two grandsons Caleb and Eli. In the gallery view we also see our daughter Alex and her fiancé Josh. Josh has never been to a Seder before. He is unsure how to pronounce the word, but he takes his turn reading from the abbreviated Haggadah I’ve emailed. Caleb asks the four questions with a little help from Dad.
When it comes time to sing my favorite Passover song Dayenu, I dominate the singing. I think it is because of the sound delay. You just can’t get everyone in unison. But the sentiment, that somehow we will be delivered from our trials and tribulations, captures the Passover message.
Sunday, April 12 thmarks Easter. A time for new beginnings. An early morning walk gives up a chance to admire the yellow daffodils and red tulips in our neighbor’s gardens and the chance to wave hello from a distance. This is our “in-person contact” with the world. We’ve made it through another week.