I fancy myself a pretty good writer sometimes, although I know I am guilty of overusing metaphors. I’m like a kid in a candy store. Dammit, there I go. Anyway, sometimes the metaphors just find me, and I can’t turn away – like grabbing a peek at a car accident. See? Make it stop!
A few days before Christmas, I took my dear wife in for a colonoscopy. She’s a cool cucumber about the whole thing – she’s had several because her brother was diagnosed with colon cancer at 27. Yeah, that will get your attention. I wasn’t able to sit in the waiting area during her procedure because of heightened COVID protocols, so I found myself in my car on a cold morning at 7AM looking at the brick wall of the doctor’s office. The only thing I could see were a few lights shining in some tiny windows. I knew my loved one was on the other side of that brick wall, and, well, like I said – sometimes the metaphor parks right in front of you. That view was basically the past two years of this pandemic. So many people on the outside just hoping for a glimpse – of connection, of life, of hope.
I had brought a book to read in the car, but my mind kept racing through the past two years – a dark pandemic montage directed by Guillermo del Toro. I thought about all those people who never saw their loved ones again after they went behind those walls. That was just too much to think about while it was still dark, so I tried to find something more cheerful to occupy my thoughts. That’s when images of the helpers came to me – thousands of people I will never meet that worked so hard to keep it all together for the rest of us. Then I zoomed in on the helpers that I do know and love. People like my good friend Ann, a public health nurse who retired last week after 44 years on the job. That’s a lot of Band-Aids. She gave me my first Moderna vaccination exactly one year ago on New Year’s Eve. I knew she was a lovely person, but to see her in action made me see what kind of nurse she was. The kind that doesn’t make your blood pressure go up. The kind that smiles so sweetly you can almost see it through her mask. She poked me so gently, I didn’t realize we were done. The past two years were hard on her – she never had the option of working remotely – and I’m so happy that she can enjoy some well-deserved rest.
And I thought about my sister who ran two cancer centers in California during the pandemic. Her life that first year was basically one never-ending loop of work. Her city was on lockdown, and she would drive home down empty streets each night. She has a compromised respiratory system and I feared that she would get COVID and die. I didn’t tell her that, but I knew she knew. She, too, never worked from home and kept so many immunocompromised cancer patients safe while they were undergoing their treatments.
The cumulative effects of all that isolation wore on her and I am so grateful to so many of my friends who were so good about texting her and sending her cards. I’ve said it many times – this pandemic has not been equal, and some have sacrificed far more than others. There is no grand scoreboard in the sky, but if there were, my sister would have a big lead. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of anyone.
Finally, I thought of my wife, the psychotherapist. She worked from home for only seven weeks – guiding so many of her older and cyber challenged clients into the strange new world of Zoom. In her line of work, she sees a lot of folks with anxiety issues, so you can imagine what a two-year pandemic has done for her business. There’s something to be said for job security. She has chronic asthma, so I worried about her safety, too. One of the happiest days of my life was when she texted me to let me know that she was getting her first Pfizer shot. I cried. She cried. We all cried. And that’s okay because pandemics are not like baseball.
I thought about all those days that Ann and my sister and my wife went to work in those dark unchartered waters. I know there were days even they didn’t know how they did it, but they did. And I’m so grateful for them and all the helpers that did the same thing. I’m a sentimental fool at heart and I usually wax poetic at the end of a year, but perhaps never so much as this year. We’re all exhausted and angry and scared and sometimes we are all those things at once. I don’t know how to make it better but telling a helper or two thank you can’t hurt. And I highly recommend squeezing the ones in your bubble.
A kind attendant wheeled my wife to the car when she was all done with her procedure. Everything had gone smoothly, and she asked me if I had read my book while I was waiting on her. I said, “No. I wrote a blog post in my head.” She asked me what the subject was. I smiled at her and said, “Helpers.” She seemed intriguied, but that could have been the lingering effects of the anesthesia.
And as we drove off to find her a big girl breakfast and a cup of coffee the size of an ice bucket, I concluded that metaphors are like helpers – you just can’t have enough of them.