Coronavirus: Stories from the Front Lines

As we sit here on the edge of a potential Coronavirus catastrophe I’m running into story after story of people I know being overwhelmed by the situation, on the one hand, and others finding creative ways to get through it.

An airline host friend was so distraught that she took to Facebook and posted this: “Y’all want to know how it feels to work for an airline during this Coronavirus pandemic? Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, that’s us.” Since that post, nearly a week ago, it has become worse for her and she is, frankly, terrified, flying daily and wondering if it’s worth the risk.

I’m hearing story after story of people losing one, two, three jobs–all at once and facing bankruptcy. One is having great difficulty getting to the unemployment office because the subway is closed and when she did, the line was overwhelming. A friend who owns her own beauty shop is looking at the loss of not only her business–which has taken years to build into a success–but also her home.

My niece says she welcomes the $2,000 from the government because she wants to begin paying her father back for her $200,000 education. A Trump supporter, she says the payout is not socialism (I argued that it is), but just an emergency strategy.

The editorial department of The Roanoke Times has chosen right now to try to form a union, something that has been long, long, long overdue. When I was there in the 1970s, we got to the serious talking stage about establishing a news guild, but interest waned. That was before ownership got truly out of hand. The people there now haven’t had a pay raise in more than 10 years and their health insurance premiums keep increasing. But to start a union now? The timing could have been better.

One of my very best friends, one who conducts exercise classes for the elderly, was faced with potentially being without her nursing home job, came up with a modern way of continuing her classes using technology. She’s doing them by video and the old people love the classes and love her. If worse comes to worst, she might consider recording the classes and selling them to senior facilities. She has expanded the classes to staff members, doing individual classes live via technology. “It’s personal training at its best,” she laughs.

Then, there are the people in Chicago who are turning their Little Free Libraries into Little Free Food Pantries, helping their neighbors.

One of the remarkable facts of any challenging situation, I’ve found, is that people find a way. During the economic crash of 2008, I was editor of a business magazine and every issue–without conscious intention–we featured a story of a person who lost her job and was faced with the biggest challenge of her life: mid-career, successful, no job. She simply followed her long-time bliss and started practicing what she always wanted to do, since she had no choice. I have rarely seen happier people, even though their income was often severely reduced (in the short term for most), homes were lost and what normally would have been considered bad news heaped upon them became a source of joy. The person’s story was sunlit, life-changing and the coast was cleared.

Yesterday, as I shopped briefly to re-fill the larder, I ran into a young woman in hospital scrubs. “Are you a nurse?” I asked. She looked at me confused.

“No, sir,” she said, “just an X-Ray technician.”

“There’s no ‘just’ about it,” I said. “You’re on the front lines trying to protect the rest of us. Thank you. You’re a hero.” She blushed and told me that she is having to take care of her 93-year-old grandmother–a woman she treasures–and that her biggest fear is that she will carry the disease to “my granny.”

“I hate not spending time with her,” she said, “but if I get the virus, I’ll just be sick. If she gets it from me, she’ll die. I couldn’t take that.”

A lot of us are finding out that we can “take” a lot more than we thought. It’s still early in this challenge, but my bet is that we are like Londoners during the blitz. We’ll get through and we’ll be stronger for it.

Oh, and there’s this: I’m ditching all the carb-heavy foods in my house and, instead of throwing them into the garbage, I’m tossing them across my big back yard. Talk about bird heaven! The little darlings are especially enamored of Frosted Flakes, I’ve found.

(Note: The blue underlines in this story are ads and they are not my doing. Sorry.)

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