WHILE STAYING AT HOME WITH HER FAMILY, CATHERINE NEWMAN SUBDUES HER GLOBAL PANDEMIC FEARS WITH MINUSCULE ACTS OF LOVE.
“Can I eat this?” my son asks with his head in the freezer, holding something lumpy and beige. He’s unexpectedly home from college–a hulking man-child in too-short pajamas, foraging for his midday breakfast. He looks up, and I smile from the kitchen table, where I’m working. “Eat whatever you want, sweetheart.” Honestly, I feel like we’re going to end up eating our shoe leather one way or another–a single Trader Joe’s chile-cheese tamale isn’t going to save us from something else–something like despair.
If you’re reading this, that means we’ve made it to the middle of May. Who are we now? I’m writing this at the very start of the coronavirus shutdowns–a time when people are filling their panicked hearts with toilet paper and missing dollar signs. But also a time when were checking in on our neighbors and consoling one another with videos of singing Italians. Here, at home. I am shedding something I don’t need anymore, a skin that feels too small to contain me. “Growing,” I guess, is the word for this particular direction of human experience. Part of it is the MINUSCULE acts of love I keep pushing out through my fear: knocking before I enter a child’s room, encouraging my family to put their phones away for a while, dragging my daughter outside into the sunshine to burn a few misgivings, making simple, beautiful meals we’ll reminisce about one day over our boiled loafers. Opening my eyes and arms as wide as they’ll go.
“Love, love, love,” I keep thinking. My husband pulls up my chives, mistaking them for weeds, and I spare him my usual woe-is-me routine. I talk to a treasured friend I’ve grown distant from, and grievance leaves me–i’m filled with fondness instead. Every day, I tell my parents I love them. These people in my house, in my life: They are everything. And they are here. We are going to lose so much. We don’t need to lose this too, this time we actually have. I think brightly to myself. “Be here now.” It’s not a new thought. But today it’s new to me. There’s just this–the small kindnesses that will become who we are after it.