High Holiday reflections in the age of COVID-19

Sept. 2020
Phyllis Shragge

As the High Holidays approach and I reflect on the past year, I’m bombarded by thoughts of COVID-19. I realize the coronavirus pandemic has escalated my confusion about life in general. My muddled thoughts have lost their connection to their source (my brain) much like loose cables discombobulating the input from my TV cable box. 
Uncertainty is the only constant but I want to plan ahead. Phrases like “flatten the curve” or “physical distancing” or “second wave” now insert themselves into my day-to-day conversations like the words “a”  or “the.” I no longer assume someone wearing a mask on his face is planning to rob a store.  

All these months into this pandemic has ripped away my equilibrium.  

I know I’m not alone. All of us have changed. All of us are living in a constant state of apprehension. As these times throw us into an obsessive compulsive state (wash and rewash your hands; clean whatever you touch; keep far, far away from everyone) we wish we could go back in time, back to BEFORE. Back to when we didn’t worry about doing the simplest things.

At the time of this writing, early in July, we are beginning to ease our way into the real world. We wonder if it’s safe to do this, or to do that.

The phrase risk-worthy comes to mind. It’s a take on the term sponge-worthy, a phrase coined by Elaine on TV’s Seinfeld. In that now-famous episode, Elaine hoarded her stash of birth control sponges when she heard they were being taken off the market. She saved them for men she considered sponge-worthy.  

As we adapt Elaine’s descriptor to our times, it’s just a bit of a tweak from sponge-worthy to risk-worthy. What is worth a perceived personal risk? For me, a trip to the hairdresser is No. 1 on the risk-worthy scale. So is a quick run into a well-known soft ice cream shop for a chocolate dip cone.

Each of us has our own risk-worthy scale. However, as we ride what could be a lockdown roller coaster, our personal risk-worthy decisions may change week to week or month to month.   

When Ontario’s Stage Two of reopening began on a Friday in June, I felt a glimmer of hope for a more-or-less normal existence. I was intrigued that restaurant patios were now allowed to open. But I was wary. Maybe I’d eat on a patio in a month or so, when the dust settles. I would bide my time.

The next day, I called a nearby restaurant and made a reservation for dinner. Blink: For me, the restaurant’s status switched from risky to risk-worthy.

That Saturday in June was wonderful. The sun was shining — perfect patio weather — as we joined the outside world for a meal. How I had missed the ritual:  Perusing a menu, debating the choices, placing an order, sipping wine, and anticipating a delicious meal. The experience was a much needed symbol of normalcy. But it was much more than that. It was a chance to wear something besides old clothes and running shoes.

Finally, instead of wistfully staring at my closet, I could pick something from it that I actually liked. I could even wear a necklace! And cute but uncomfortable sandals!

We felt safe dining out that night. Our table was far from others on the patio. We could relax. We could, albeit briefly, forget COVID-19.

What’s happening in the fall of 2020? Has there been a resurgence of cases? Have there been renewed lockdown measures? Will there be a second wave of the pandemic? Do I really want to think about all this? I do not. One day at a time. Such is life as we now know it.   

Phyllis Shragge is a local writer, mother of five, and grandmother of four.