COVID-19 YIN AND YANG
By Sue Wurster
Over the course of this past year, when so many have been limited to screen time with their grandchildren, I am almost embarrassed by my incredible good fortune: my young daughter and her toddler live with me. And that boy, my first grandbaby, truly is a “bundle of joy.” (Literally. His name is Sekani, which is Egyptian for joy.) There is nothing more wonderful than holding him, playing with him, watching him grow and learn…unless it’s seeing him with his Mama. They are the best of friends.
And during this strange time, we seem to have made new friends too. Humanity seems to have moved over a bit, giving Mother Nature some elbow room. My friend Anne has seen a bobcat in her back yard in Harvard. Polly has spotted a bear on her New Hampshire property. Our neighborhood online bulletin board features almost daily notices of back yard sightings–coyote, fox, deer, wild turkey, and even, today, a weasel in his winter white ermine coat. The marmot who has lived on our hill for years recently introduced himself to Sekani–while maintaining a respectful six-foot social distance, of course. And at one point, we discovered that an opossum had chosen our garage as his final resting place.
This quarantine has actually forced us to slow down, take walks, and pay more attention to what surrounds us.
It pushed me to turn off the news and get back into the quiet habit of long, leisurely reading. For me, it has truly been the best and worst of times…which brings me to the yang, quite literally the black spot, of this tale.
I love Ray Bradbury. And one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, features a man who has just murdered his nemesis in his enemy’s library. As he wipes away potential fingerprints on and near the body, he begins to remove his possible fingerprints from anything he might have touched at the scene. He dusts the glass he had held, the book his host had handed him to look at, the pipe he had been offered. He dabs at the floor around the body again, looks up, and notices…the wall. After deciding that he definitely had not touched the fruit at the bottom of the bowl on the table in the dining room, he eventually goes back and wipes it clean. Hours later, when the police arrive, they find him in the attic–polishing the old coins and the old china, and as they escort him out of the gleaming house, he burnishes the brass front doorknob and exclaims, “Done!”
Lately, I have felt strangely like Bradbury’s obsessed murderer, leading me to suspect that I have contracted a rare variant of the Covid-19 virus: Covid OCD.
It all started with my closet.
There, a host of now-too-big clothing had proved to be too much for the large woven carryall it had been landing in to await a trip to a nearby Planet Aid donation bin. As the pile was now blocking my drawers, I bagged it up and lugged it downstairs. There my eye fell upon the overflowing laundry baskets in the corner, which I bagged and tossed down the stairs as well. When I turned, the rumpled sheets on the bed seemed to hiss and sneer at me until I actually yanked them into place, smoothed the coverlet, and fluffed the pillows.
I had not actually made the bed in years…
Since then, every closet, cupboard, desk, bin, shelf, and drawer in the house has been “weeded” and organized. “Sell by” and “Best if Used by” directives have been dutifully noted and followed. Basement detritus has boarded the local Anything Goes truck. Twenty-seven bags of paperback books and videos have landed in the bin at More Than Words , the youth-run used bookstore in town. Boxes of hard covers from teaching days went to the library, my girls’ former schools, and friends. Stray hard copy family photos now grace album pages, and their digital counterparts are now meticulously organized, labeled, and filed–ready for the next wave. Dishes no longer languish in the sink. Dirty clothes bags no longer litter the laundry room floor. Tasks on the “To Do” lists actually get checked off—done in short order. And the trash bins along the driveway burst with detritus uncovered by the whole manic purge.
Considering the significantly growing number of trash bins and bags on my street on Friday mornings, awaiting pick up, it is clear that this particular offshoot of the virus is not unique to me. It is also clear that it is contagious. My daughter, who has never demonstrated any proclivity for neatness whatsoever in all of her twenty years, started vacuuming her room about three weeks ago.
Clearly, this weeding and sorting and organizing frenzy is about the need to create at least some sense of order in our lives. It is about being able to exert and maintain control over some aspect of our daily existence.
And even though I understand what this condition may really be about, I hear the plaintive calls of old china and other items long relegated to the attic calling my name, wheedling for attention…and I am compelled to respond.
Sue has spent virtually her whole life reading, writing, acting, directing, public speaking, advising literary magazines and newspapers–she’s been known in certain circles as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”