Letters to the Future: Notes on Journaling During the COVID-19 Crisis

photo of person holding cup
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

For over half my life, my morning routine has included journaling. I note ten things I’m grateful for, such as health, friends, basic needs met, Oakley’s snoring–the stuff of life that makes it good. And then I write about dreams and analyze them. And then I just free write about how the day unfolds.

In addition to fit the puzzle pieces of my life into a coherent whole, I’m also aware that I have a responsibility to my descendants, to anyone who might be interested in the journals of a not-so-young woman living in these times to record events in real time.

Personal journals provide historians with a wealth of knowledge about what really happened, not just what governments and those writing history on their behalf say did. Queen Victoria’s journals gave hints about what being pushed into greatness at a crazy young age was like. Anne Frank’s diary should be mandatory reading in every school to educate further generations about being Jewish life in hiding in 1940’s Amsterdam under Hitler’s regime.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve journaled or not before now. Just get a blank book (Barnes and Nobel, Half Price Books, and any place that sells art supplies on line should have them on line. Please don’t go out unless you absolutely have to do so). Date your entry. And begin writing.

What should you write about?

  • Where were you when…your state/province/country went on stay at home orders? (Announced March 20, 2020, 3:10 PM. Order effective  starting at 5 PM March 21, 2020.)
  • What were you doing? (Getting ready to get Oakley from day care. Ran to the store to get him some more food. Hubby and I had done a haul recently.)
  • What have you been feeling? Whatever emotions you’ve had are OK.
  • How have the stay at home orders impacted your routine?  (Biggest thing is dog day care being closed until the order is lifted. Able to get grocery delivery from the mom and pop store near his day care. We’re still able to walk at the forest preserves. The state parks are closed until further notice.)
  • What have you done to cope? (Finding funny stuff on YouTube, cooking, longer walks with Oakley, making watching the daily briefings a time for ritual tea and treats.)
  • Moments of despair? (Two. One of the deaths in Illinois early on was a nine-month-old baby. I was just gutted. You could have called me a doe and hung me up by the ankles and finished the job. The other was John Prine’s death. I don’t openly weep for many performers, but he is one of them.)
  • Moments of hope? (Watching Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the public health department, doing the daily briefing.)
  • Inspiration? (The ones finding humor in the situation, such as the people on the Bin Isolation Outing page on Facebook. )
  • Has COVID-19 directly impacted you, your friends, or family? ( Two friends had it before it was a thing. Possibly three. She’s making arrangements to get tested as I type. Please send her good energy, thoughts, vibes, etc. )
  • What actions have you been taking? Have you donated to food banks, organizations  that are helping people in compromised situations? Are you ready to vote in November? Are you contacting your elected representatives about the issues the pandemic has brought to light? (Need you ask?)
  • Self care? (More yoga, added strength training, trying not to compulsively eat, meditating to guided sessions on Mindful.org.)
  • What else would you like future generations to know about this time in history?

Every generation has their crises. Hopefully, we can distill our real life experience to guide the future through theirs.

When Licking the Coffee Table Becomes a Viable Option….

animal bear bored close up
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I can tell when Oakley is getting ready to do it. He stares at me to get my attention. Then, while keeping his eyes on me, he unfurls his tongue and leans over towards the coffee table.

“NO!” Part of the fun is watching me react.

He gets in a swipe while I create a diversion with a stuffed Kong or a puzzle. Once diverted, he settles down and attends to freeing the tidbits stashed in the puzzle’s compartments or slurping away at the Kong.

Usually, I sigh both to release my frustration and to express gratitude that he stopped chewing stuff up a long time ago. After all, what’s a couple of harnesses and a few chunks of drywall when he turned out this well?

I can’t say as I blame him. The stay-at-home routine is getting to me, too, but I’m not quite at the point where I wish to put my tongue in contact with the furniture instead of using a dust rag.  Especially with the weather as it is this morning. Something like four inches of  wet snow fell overnight, then turned to rain and fog. I never thought I’d be salting the steps in mid-April, but there you go.

So I channel my energy into laundry, into routine tidying, and reading. Oakley will do nose work (also known as “find-it,” based on training exercises for contraband sniffing dogs) and get a couple of extra treats for amusement purposes.

And with some luck, no one will lick the coffee table today.

Becoming Matriarch


Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

Some rites of passage involve celebration and ceremony to welcome new phases of life, new roles and positions. They are planned, welcomed.

Others happen unbidden and unwanted. Quietly, they slip into a day with no warning to confer a change of status.

My brother called Wednesday morning with the news that the last of our mother’s cousins had passed to the next world. She was 92, and by some act of grace her sons were with her, not an easy thing in these pandemic days. Mom was an only child, and her cousins played the role of aunts and uncles for us.

A sigh. A bit of chocolate. I hadn’t really been in touch with them in ages, so the sense of loss was palpable, but not overwhelming. She had cared for the three of us in the chaotic days after my mother’s unexpected death, drifted off for a while, then returned to support us along the path of grief after our dad’s passage.

Go about the evening and next day when my brother called again. He’d been digging on line for information on family members for his genealogy project. Dad’s last cousin, the one who’d been like an aunt to us (Dad’s younger brother lived in Washington and to the best of our knowledge didn’t have children) had died a few years ago. Somewhere in her late 80s, maybe early 90s.

A chill passed through as a weight came onto my shoulders. A weight as if someone had dropped a cape onto them.

In a heartbeat, the three of us became That Generation. The elders. The matriarchs and the patriarch, keepers of wisdom, storehouses of memories, clan leaders.

And in that same heartbeat came the realization that I will likely be the last one standing of the three of us. My sister is 15 years older than me and my brother 10 years older than me. Both are in pretty good shape, and may they be so for a long time.

Odds remain that I will be the last one who holds memories of my mother seated at the piano playing Debussy; my father cooking dinner; coffee with Grandma at her grey Formica kitchen table; Gram cutting the crust off of toast for fussy eaters. Remembering the creaks, the scents of their houses. Looking out of Gram’s windows to see the  velvety green Berkshire mountains seemingly close enough to touch. The traffic on the major street that passed in front of Grandma’s porch.

Oakley went for a long walk around the lot as I processed that. He didn’t want to, but if I have to take on this unexpected role, he had to take me for a walk.

Deep breath, replenish with the green scents of the first grasses and clovers. Now what do I do? The answers shaped themselves into two sets of questions, one for the care of my direct descendents and their future families; the other for the care of the wider world.

The responses to those included keeping myself in optimal health; getting my affairs in order; making sure my journaling includes family and wider world history; and continuing to do what I can from the soybean field to fight against hunger, inequality, and environmental damage.

I felt the invisible mantle shift. Suddenly, it didn’t feel as heavy.