Thursday, April 2, 2020

Finding light in darkness -- April 2, 2020 column


With the onslaught of bad news, we all need moments of light and delight.

It was heartening to see Italians singing from their balconies and Brits clapping on their front porches, showing solidarity and thanking healthcare workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Some residents of Alexandria put candles or luminaries outside their houses at 7 p.m. April 1 to thank healthcare workers.

Unite the Night, an idea that started in Ohio, asks people to put out luminaries for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. every Sunday. The idea is for the event to start at 8:30 in each time zone, so “there is never darkness as we wait for the next time zone,” the Unite the Night website says.h

I hope the gesture catches on not only to thank doctors, nurses and all the first responders who are overworked and in danger but also to fight the darkness we’re all feeling.

The prolific author Alexander McCall Smith has written a poem for our troubled times, “In a time of distance," that begins:

The unexpected always happens in the way
The unexpected has always occurred:
When we are doing something else,
While we are thinking of altogether
Different things – matters that events
Then show to be every bit as unimportant
As our human concerns so often are;”

It’s a wonderful poem, and if you haven’t read McCall Smith, you might pick up one of his popular novels – perhaps electronically through the public library or from an independent local bookstore that is closed temporarily and is struggling.

It seems wrong that liquor stores are “essential” but libraries and bookstores are not, though I’m glad people are staying safe.

Fortunately, exercise outside is still allowed, with social distancing, unless you or someone in your home is sick.

On our walks, we often stop outside the tiny, independent bookshop a few blocks away and peer through the windows at the stacks of books. The bookshop has shifted to online-only sales with optional curbside pickup service, a very popular option many retailers now offer.

Around the corner, an Italian restaurant made local news for a promotion giving away a free roll of toilet paper with every carry-out order. You can still buy a roll for $2 with any order. Proceeds of the TP sales benefit their Employee Relief Fund.

Some people are adopting pets to help them get through this period of fear and grief. This is especially worthwhile since animal shelters are overflowing with pets but are not open to the public. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is sponsoring a virtual adoption process with potential pet owners and pets meeting first online.

You probably can find in your community similar creative ways bookstores, restaurants, animal shelters and other businesses are coping.

We’ve found the busy-ness of our lives replaced by slowness and silence. Walking in areas usually bustling with traffic, we hear more birdsong and spot new birds, oblivious to human troubles. Along the Potomac, I heard the river lapping rocks. How had I missed that?

At home, I’m cooking old, family recipes I always meant to try. My late mother typed some on a typewriter on 3”x5” index cards. On Sunday, I made “Mrs. O’Quinn’s Waffles – Selma, Ala.” I was a toddler when we lived by Mrs. O’Quinn.

I haven’t tried baking bread yet, but many people are, evidently. Yeast and flour are among items in short supply, if available at all. A friend reported on Facebook he ordered six small packages of yeast on Amazon for $33.98. Those will be pricey baguettes.

Fortunately, farmers’ markets are open by pre-order and pickup, and many vendors sell bread. You can learn new cooking skills from the many chefs who teach free classes on YouTube and Instagram.

And, as the coronavirus invasion happened in the spring, we have daffodils, tulips and other flowers to lift our spirits. We can putter in our gardens. Weeding is still a chore, but it cures many ills when we can’t control much of anything.

It’s a great time for a victory garden. What will you grow?

© 2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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