Calling today “Day One” is an arbitrary designation of course. The respiratory infection called COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019. By the end of February, cases of COVID-19 had been identified in thirty-six other countries and territories, including the United States. Five days ago, when the virus had spread to 114 countries and over 4,000 people had died from it, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, acknowledging the potentially devastating consequences of the disease and prompting global leaders to implement measures to mitigate them whenever possible.
On March 10, the day before the WHO’s declaration, my mother, who has faced some serious (non-respiratory) health challenges recently, moved from an assisted living community several hours away to a facility nearby where she can get more support and I can see her more often. Her move, accomplished just as official efforts to contain COVID-19 began to roll out, dominated my attention and the energies of my siblings and husband this last week.
It felt like the early minutes of a horror movie. Nothing terrible had happened yet — everyone was doing their normal thing, and no one we knew was sick — but the creepy music and sense of impending doom was becoming harder to ignore. People began teleworking or preparing to telework. They stocked up on food and medicine, and started hoarding toilet paper. We heard more about social distancing, isolation and quarantine. The stock market stumbled, then nosedived, then recovered a bit, and now has nosedived some more. Governors declared states of emergency. They shut down rest stops on the interstate. Schools closed. Millions of parents wondered how they would manage. Colleges and universities shifted to on-line instruction. My university extended spring break for a week to keep students from returning to campus and give faculty time to re-format their courses. My mom’s new care facility restricted visiting hours the day her furniture arrived, and cut off visitation completely the next morning. Yesterday, my brother was able to take a bus back to the urban area he calls home, and my sister negotiated her way through one of the nation’s airports clogged with travelers returning from Europe who had to be screened for signs of COVID-19. They will both be teleworking for the foreseeable future too.
I fell asleep on Saturday feeling incredibly relieved that we had dodged so many bullets during “operation move Mom.” But yesterday, as I took stock of how COVID-19 had already altered our daily lives, I realized I wanted to try to make sense of the pandemic by writing about it. I have journalled my way through some of life’s more memorable experiences: the collapse of Soviet communism when I was doing my dissertation research in Moscow, the aftermaths of 9/11, and of the April 16 shootings in 2007. But I’ve never written in a public format about the intersection between the personal and the historical, and it seems like a global pandemic might offer an appropriate occasion to do so. As a historian, I have students read diaries, poems, and reflections of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times to help them understand how subjective and personal history is. Maybe what I write here will be useful to others down the road, and maybe it will just help me keep track of how the pandemic intersected with and inflected my personal journey.
In any case, I’m calling today “Day One” because it’s the first day of teleworking, of practicing self-isolation and social distancing as much as possible, and of focusing on living through COVID-19. In the days ahead I imagine I will write about the process of shifting my teaching away from F2F interaction, the challenges of sustaining community, staying healthy, and re-supplying provisions, and who knows what else that might become relevant or interesting. Today, “Day One,” is for gratitude and reflection on the first year in the life of Nairo, our German Shepherd pup.
Nairo, (pronounced with a long “I” like “Cairo”) comes from farm dog stock, where temperament and ability are the most prized attributes. Since joining our pack, he has grown into a regal but goofy companion — smart, sweet, stubborn, and quirky in a way that can be challenging as well as entertaining. He loves his kitty, a thirteen-year-old dilute tortoiseshell, who seems to enjoy being pawed over and slobbered on. He is also extremely attached to a fifteen pound boulder-cum-rock that he barks at while kicking it between his back legs. He does not know about Sisyphus, but the latter might appreciate the way Nairo has effectively plowed the entire backyard — creating a muddy hillside where there once was grass. On a more useful note, he is part of a citizen science project examining the suitability of pet dogs for scent detection work against agricultural pests such as the spotted lanternfly. He is my first German Shepherd since my great grad school dogs, Alyosha and Mattie passed nearly twenty-five years ago. Tom and I waited a long time for him, but it was completely worth it.
Nairo’s birth last spring coincided with the meltdown of my personal health that kept me mostly in bed, going to doctors, and trying to reclaim my life for several months. I am beginning the “Living With COVID-19” project enjoying renewed health thanks to my husband’s incredible support, lots of yoga and meditation, and the help of medical practitioners from the fields of Traditional Chinese Medicine, functional medicine, and allopathic medicine. I have learned that it helps to be catholic in one’s approach to the healing arts, especially when your immune system goes on strike but doesn’t join the union. As an immune compromised individual who is now considered an “older” person, I do have some trepidation about contracting the virus, but I know I am in good shape, all things considered, and am still imagining that there’s another half marathon in my future. (Ok, maybe not this year…)
More Nairo gratitude: Nairo is named after my favorite pro-cyclist, the great Nairo Quintana. For human Nairo, 2019 had more than its share of troubles: his Spanish team seemed to undermine rather than support him, the chauvinism of European pro-cycling, which often seems whiter than white, was unsparing in its criticism of a Colombian indigenous person who had managed to do everything BUT win the Tour de France, and everyone was ready to write him off as a “has been” when he left the World Tour for a pro Continental Team based in Brittany.
But when the UCI officially put the pro cycling calendar on hold for COVID-19 this weekend, Nairo had already proven the naysayers wrong. With three stage wins, three record-breaking climbs and two overall victories in just sixteen days of racing, he has performed at or above the breathtaking level that made him a sensation when he first rocked the cycling world in 2013 by coming in second at the Tour de France and winning the polka-dot jersey and the best young rider’s jersey. His last win on Saturday, where he put nearly a minute into the leaders over the final four kilometers of the sixteen kilometer ascent to La Colmaine suggested that the old Nairo is back and provided a tantalizing hint of what he might do in France this July. Thank you, Nairo!