During this bizarre and unprecedented time, I'm not exactly sure how to feel, think, or act. Most days, I go about my new semi-isolation routine and take this all in stride, which is my usual default position. However, a few times each day, I stop dead in my tracks and think of the enormity of this pandemic and the long ranging effects that we'll be coping with for quite some time. It's a jarring time, to say the least.
Many of my friends know that Contagion is one of my favorite films and when a topic would come up that even remotely tied in with the movie, I would, ad nauseam, expound on the plot line. Usually saying that when (not if) this happens, it'll be just like the film predicted: sickness, death, isolation, fear, anger, financial ruin, and confusion. The writer and director worked with the CDC so that their portrayal would be as accurate as possible. One of the most haunting scenes for me was when the film panned over a multitude of places that are normally teeming with people, now empty and desolate. It was terrifying.
In any event, the majority of people would give me a little smile and a nod, most assuredly thinking I was bonkers and way off the mark. Well, not to say I told you so, but here we are — one of the few times that I wish I wasn't right.
As it happens, my side gig/"job for fun" at Trader Joe's is now one of the few in the city with job security. As an essential employee, I'm free to travel the city (the subways are now for essentials only), and as such, I've been on empty trains on my way to work or to volunteer, sometimes bringing my bike with me and riding through major thoroughfares with only a few trucks and cars to share the road — in better times it would be kind of cool, but right now, it's just eerie, haunting, and disturbing.
So, yes, I am living in the movie Contagion, as we all are. And we are, at least in the U.S., at the very beginning of this pandemic. The thought of a time after this seems almost unimaginable.
In July 2017, I wrote a blog post focused on coping with tragedy and being able to move on. Although the piece dealt with specific unrelated incidents, it mirrors the raw emotions and feelings that we collectively share today. I decided to reprint the post today in the hopes that it might offer some consolation.
This Too Shall Pass
(originally posted on July 13, 2017)
On a Wednesday in September 2001, my mother, Joan, passed away unexpectedly in upstate New York. She was only 66 years old. I was in my office in midtown Manhattan when I got the call from my sister, Lisa. The sense of sickening dread and the overwhelming feelings of confusion and non-acceptance of the facts that I experienced still dwell in the back of my mind to this day. What made it even more painful was the timing. I was heading upstate in a week to spend time with my family and attend my sister-in-law Erin’s 30th birthday party — I missed seeing my mother for the last time by one week, just one lousy week.
I flew to Syracuse that night and over the next few days, my family and I tended to the arrangements and tried to console one another as best as we could. I decided to stay for the week and would return to NYC after the birthday party. But, the Universe was not quite done.
On Tuesday morning, Matt, my brother, ran into my room, shook me awake and said, “We’re being attacked!” I was in a drowsy state and for some strange reason my mind went to a vision of being attacked by bees or birds — it was the “country” after all. But no, that Hitchcockian plot was not in the cards. That day was September 11th, a day that needs no explanation.
As you can imagine, the double blow of the death of my mother and the senseless murder of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers and all the others was devastating to me. Over the following months, my mind could find no sanctuary, no place to rest. When I was able to banish thoughts of my mother’s death, inevitably, thoughts of the attack on my hometown and the entire tragedy of that day would take their place. I vacillated between numbness and hypersensitivity. I truly could not envision a day that I would be able to move beyond the pain, shock, and sadness.
This leads me to my theme for today — I’m writing about a simple, yet-oh-so powerful phrase in the Universe — “This Too Shall Pass.” Nothing in life remains the same; everything is temporary. “This Too Shall Pass” applies in good times — mostly as a reminder to enjoy the wonderful moments while they last — but, more importantly, in the bad.
When something awful happens, we tend to think our feelings and emotions concerning the incident will last forever, and it’s difficult to imagine a future where we feel differently. Yet, each of us can look back on a dark time and see that the sting of anguish has softened, and lost all, or most, of its power. If we can remember that a hardship will pass, we can endure in a way that helps ease our distress and enables us to envision a brighter future.
A study on older couples — those who had been married for decades — 6 months after losing their spouse was conducted by George A. Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. The study found that the core symptoms of grief — anxiety, depression, shock, intrusive thoughts — had lifted by six months after the loss for 60 percent of the participants. And, as time went by, the majority returned to a normal psychological state. This in no way infers that the participants did not miss their respective deceased spouses, rather happiness did return to their lives in a relatively short amount of time, and their level of unhappiness was not as devastating as many would imagine.
The memories of painful events in your life will, of course, resurface from time to time. Sometimes, so unexpectedly, that they can stop you in your tracks. But the truth is, the intense sting will have dissipated and the mental “scars” will continue to fade.
In the years since that September in 2001, I’ve relied on This “Too Shall Pass” to get me through the memories of that difficult time. Now, I still have moments of sadness, but they wash over me as a dull ache rather than a sharp pain. I’ve also used the phrase to get me through other challenges and trials — and believe me, there have been some real doozies, (like the one we are all dealing with now). On the flip side, though, I’ve been able to call upon its power to more deeply enjoy the good times, as they too are fleeting.
Time does heal all wounds, and we all have an infinite capacity to heal, adapt, and move on. Yes, This Too Shall Pass.
Cooking for Joan
As promised in the last post, I’m highlighting the second of two recipes that I said I would include in future Cooking for Joan offerings. The first was one of my all-time favorite ways of making potatoes — mashed potatoes cooked in cream and butter.
Today, I bring you the green vegetable accompaniment to the Reverse Sear Ribeye dinner — Asparagus with Orange Glaze. I love asparagus, especially now, since they're in season. Cooking them in orange juice and butter just adds that extra oomph. With their distinct flavor and the sweet/sour/sticky glaze, this dish pares beautifully with the crusty, savory ribeye and the smooth creamy mashed potatoes.
If there's ever been a time for some self-love and comfort, this is the meal for you. If you're a vegetarian, pare the two side dishes with whatever entree you prefer. Enjoy it solo, with your fellow isolation mates, or jump on Zoom and have a social distance dinner party with friends. You'll be the envy of the group, I guarantee it! By the way, I'm taking my own advice and making this meal for myself tonight.
Asparagus with Orange Glaze
Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 6
- 2 bunches medium-thick asparagus, tough ends snapped off
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup+ orange juice
- Zest of a large orange (optional)
Toss asparagus with salt.
Arrange in a large (12-inch) skillet with a lid.
Add butter and juice to skillet and cover. Add more juice if needed.
(The asparagus can be set up a few hours ahead.)
Turn burner on medium-high about 10 minutes before serving time.
When asparagus starts to steam, set timer for 4 minutes.
Cook until tender, checking at 4 minutes with the tip of a sharp knife.
Transfer cooked asparagus to a serving dish.
Add optional zest to skillet and continue to cook until pan juices reduce to a glaze consistency, 3-4 minutes longer.
Pour over asparagus and serve.
**image by Rain-shade