It’s a pandemic out there folks. And from where I sit, not much looks different. I live in a small rural hamlet of 200 people nestled between two larger centres one with a population of approx. 12,000 and the other roughly 4,000 – seemingly at the end of the earth some days. The most noticeable difference is that the school playground that I can oversee from my kitchen window is quiet. But, then again, one could almost believe it is simply the weekend. It is difficult to grasp the severity of the situation when nothing appears changed. But we are changed, nonetheless, and it is in that recognition and acceptance that lives will be saved.
The change for me began last week when I ventured into the store for my usual weekly shopping. I had heard that people were hoarding toilet paper and couldn’t even fathom what could possibly prompt this behavior. It wasn’t until I saw the empty aisle extending from one end of the store to the other that I could begin to believe it was real. Perhaps it is because we lie at the end of a supply chain or simply social media hitting everyone at the same time. But everything else, save for the flour aisle seemed untouched and unchanged. It was not unusual for the store to be slow restocking shelves but I recognized the toilet paper aisle for what it was…panic.
The vision of those empty toilet paper shelves did something to me. I did not even begin to require the purchase of toilet paper, and yet, at that moment, I knew with all certainty that should my travels lead me to where I saw some still available for sale, I would buy it. This evoked a great deal of self-talk within myself. Why? Why am I feeling this effect? It was rather like being a young child again and wanting something simply because I couldn’t have it. Seriously? At my age? And yet my feelings assured me they were real. I’m not sure if I would have been able to fight them either, for no toilet paper has yet crossed my path for sale. These feelings did contribute to me picking up more items than I came for and which was likely prudent. The store was much busier than usual for a Thursday morning and there seemed to be an urgency in the air not unlike the viral droplets we were all trying to avoid. It was truly difficult not to just keep buying.
That same day I needed to pick up a parcel at the post office in the next town of 4,000 and, as I had forgotten to pick up coleslaw for that night’s supper, I stopped in at the grocery store. The parking lot was packed. Late in the afternoon on a Thursday. Unusual for our area. I went for a bag of coleslaw and I took in a cart. That should have been my first clue. I am happy to report I did not fill the cart. But I did go up and down the aisles trying to use reason and calm and self-talk to resist over purchasing. But I did notice a few things I should pick up…just in case. I walked out with only one bag, however it took all my concentrated effort to do so. I met friends with small totes picking up a few items and joked with them that their small totes wouldn’t hold enough for the apocalypse and we laughed. But there was that dawn of realization that perhaps I wasn’t joking as much as I thought. And yes, I checked to see if there was toilet paper. There was not.
News of the pandemic has taken over my FaceBook newsfeed, the TV, and the only topic of conversation with friends and indeed, anyone I find myself in contact with (which, fast forward a few days from these adventures is less and less). I realised that I did not own a functioning thermometer. Since one of the first symptoms is a fever, I figured it would make sense that I pick one up. I had a physio appointment in town and stopped into the local Walmart. Well, unless I planned to spend over $60 for a fancy, seemingly professional type, there was none to be had. I felt relatively sure that I could tell by touch if either of us were feverish, but since the virus went, well, viral, I have been regularly convinced that my hot flash has turned into something more sinister. I toured through the store not unlike a gawker at a train wreck. In less than 24 hours, the store had gone from looking slightly understocked to almost empty. I had decided that some instant potatoes might come in handy. I had purchased a large box of 14 pouches from Costco once upon a time. We do not use a lot of potatoes and it took me fully three years or more to use up the 14 pouches. I had just used the last pouch a few days before (probably well past its best before date) and thought darn, they would be handy to have. I found myself standing in front of a still fairly stocked display trying to choose between two flavours. Easy…one of each. Each box contained 2 packages. It was all I could do not to buy six…of each one! I had to continually remind myself, I have enough. We would be fine. Even as I walked from the store the urge was great to just run back and get a few more boxes. Seriously, I told myself repeatedly, if I have to isolate for more than three years I have a much bigger problem ahead than whether or not I have mashed potatoes for a side dish. The feelings were very palpable and insistent.
My next stop was to a local drugstore where I found the only thermometer under $60 was a child’s digital thermometer for $23. It had a panda head and I could not get over the image of taking my temperature with a panda head looking back at me, let alone if it should ever require rectal use. There were six on the shelf and other drugstores left to check. I did not check their toilet paper stock and was later informed that they were known to still have a few small packages. I still did not need any TP and yet I was disappointed in myself for not at least checking. I found a thermometer at my next stop, at the pharmacy I’ve dealt with for years, for the cost of $12. One might wonder why I did not check there first. I never deal anywhere else. I just don’t. I was already trapped in a mindset of supply and demand with the supply gone from the equation. Instead of following my usual path, I was stopping at each place along the way because in my mind I could no longer count on the reliability of my usual sources to deliver what I required. After making my purchase, I stopped into the grocery store next door for no other reason than to assuage my curiosity. Several lines trailed from the cashiers to the back of the store. Unprecedented even in the days leading to Christmas. I felt a gloat come over me not unlike the triumph of a person who has finished their Christmas shopping in September. I was starting not to recognize myself. There was still no toilet paper.
Canadian Tire was just down the parking lot and instead of steering towards home, I thought I would just take a look. Maybe the rest of the world remained normal. Their parking lot didn’t look busy. I’m not truly sure whether I was looking to gawk or looking for normalcy in a world seemingly gone mad. I was excited to see coffee on sale, there of all places. I picked up two cans simply because I generally do not see this item on sale. Everything else was as it normally would be…except for the household products where, once again there was a large gaping hole where one would expect to find toilet paper.
My anxiety began to rise again. I went to the pet food aisle and purchased a large bag of kitty kibble also on sale. I didn’t really need another large bag of kibble right then, but I felt better for the buying of it.
The next day, Saturday, I did not have reason to venture out of the hamlet. I had to resist the urge to just go buy something. I needed nothing. But this strange primordial urge kept rising and I kept beating it down. On Sunday my husband needed to buy some razorblades. We ran into Walmart to pick them up and I toured him through the store to show him firsthand what I had been non stop babbling about for days. To the box of razor blades in my hand, I added another multi-pack of single serve potato chips (there was already a full pack at home) and my husband picked up a bag of his favourite chips as well. We left and went for a drive taking a long route home. We reminded ourselves that we were fortunate and had enough, we needed no more.
Retail therapy is no longer therapeutic. We vowed that Mother Nature would become our new therapist. It’s a good time to remember that although social gatherings are cancelled, Mother Nature still has welcoming arms. The weather is getting warmer and long walks – albeit without my usual walking pal – are there for the taking. Snow is still sufficient to cross country ski. Travel, other than locally, is out of the question but books can take you places no mode of transportation ever could. Projects long on the shelf are there for the starting. When the snow leaves, yards will need tending and, with Spring, new life will need nurturing. As you know my favourite Mother Nature theatre is the night sky and while there is never a guarantee to see Auroras, with clear skies the entertainment is endless. With kids not needing to be up early in the morning for school, take this time to drive to a spot away from city lights and just be. Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust. Make sure not to use any white light at all as your eyes will need to readjust once again. (This means your car door and your screens). Get yourself a red flashlight or cover a regular flashlight in red tissue to help find your way around. Binoculars are helpful too – telescopes not really required.
Wonders abound from the Milky Way to the North Star to the constellations to planets. You are bound to spot a shooting star…or even two (or more). The moon changes every night…take time to notice the subtleties. Satellites abound including the ISS. Ask Google about satellite and ISS trackers as well as constellation guides geared for the area in which you find yourself. Research constellation myths and tell the stories to your children as they seek to connect the dots in the sky. If you are a newbie to the nightscape, learn along with your kids. They may even surprise you with their knowledge.
We are going to get through these times. Technology thankfully keeps us together and yet we can remain separated. Yes there is much to think about but, as in all adversity, it is not a sin to find some happiness. Keep vigilant, divert your thoughts, and find some joy. Who knows, you might just catch your first sight of The Lady dancing. Keep your social distance – reach out for the stars – and just breathe. xo