Once upon a time, in a tower far, far away, there lived a girl with long, long hair. She was isolated and lonely and longed to leave the tower so she could experience the outside world and all it had to offer.
Or maybe the story goes…
Once upon a cancer, on the 11th floor of the MD Anderson bone marrow transplant tower, there barely lived a girl with no hair. She was isolated and scared and longed to leave the hospital so she could once again hold her children and breathe fresh air.
But now, I think the story may go a little something more like this….
Once upon today, in houses across the country, there lived Americans who were practicing social distancing. They were isolated and bored and trying to adjust to their new normal but confused as to what their new normal should be.
I am finding this week to be the hardest yet. I’m feeling like I’ve done what I’ve supposed to have been doing by staying home. I’ve practiced my social distancing and become an expert on all 4th-grade subjects. I’ve cooked three meals a day, seven days a week and have washed my hands until they have turned red. And I’ve continued to watch the news daily in hopes of hearing some sort of plan as to when this will end but have yet to hear of an end date. And that uncertainty only adds to my already heightened emotional state.
Quarantine for me has brought back many feelings of the isolation I experienced during both of my bone marrow transplants. I spent a total of ten and a half weeks on the 11th floor of the MD Anderson hospital. Other than my immediate family, anyone who entered my room had to be fully covered in protective gowns, masks, and gloves. Any time I left the room, I was required to wear my protective mask and gloves. I couldn’t be around anyone for fear of catching a germ. No one could be around me for fear they would unknowingly spread a deadly foreign invader to my new and weak immune system. The enemy was invisible, and the stakes were way too high to take any chances. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tempted.
The other day, the kids and I went on a bike ride. Tommy loves his crazy tall socks so, for the most part, we keep our opinions to ourselves for fear we may stifle his creative expression- but the socks he’d chosen to wear while on our we-have-to-get-out-of-the-house afternoon bike ride were particularly outrageous. Tommy was riding his bike a short distance in front of Ellie and me when she called out to him, “Tommy, I just have to say this. Your socks today are so…Extra!” Tommy took it as a compliment, which gave him a little burst of energy to ride a bit further ahead. Ellie and I gave each other a knowing smile before she picked up her pace and joined her brother half a block ahead of me. The rest of the ride home, I thought about the word Ellie had used to describe Tommy’s socks. Extra. That word stuck with me. It resonated with me. It made sense to me. Because I think that Extra is a good description of most all our lives right now.
We are living in a time of Extra- Extra togetherness, Extra anxiety, and Extra pain. We are living with Extra stress, Extra worry, and Extra uncertainty. Marriages are Extra tested, parents are praying for Extra patience and our kitchens are getting Extra use. Without the distraction of our day-to-day lives, our layers of protection have been stripped away, leaving us with exposed hearts and uncovered emotions. Without our suits of armor, we are Extra vulnerable. Without our outside lives, we are Extra us.
By some crazy twist of life, we’ve all been isolated and continue to live in quarantine with no real end in sight. We are all Rapunzel in our towers, looking out at the world from the safety of our living rooms. We may not have Prince Charming coming to rescue us but we do have one thing- one sure lifeline we can all cling to in these crazy times. We all have Hope.
Whether we are isolated in our homes, isolated in a hospital or isolated in a tall tower, we are all in a state of Extra. We are Extra alone, Extra together, Extra aware. We are Extra awake to the dangers we face and Extra conscious of the preciousness of life. Our country is Extra opinionated and Extra unsettled. But- I believe we are also Extra Hopeful.
Hope is what I clung to when I was fighting for my life during my transplants and Hope is what I’m clinging to now. I’ve seen my kids and their friends write hopeful messages to one another and have watched the focus of so many move towards helping those in need. Right now, life for most is Extra hard so we have to be filled with Extra kindness and Extra forgiveness and Extra hope.
Artwork courtesy of River Rupp
Because, if we don’t all have Hope, what the hell is the point?
I believe, because of Hope, our collective future story will read a little something like this…
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a lot of really brave people who came together and fought an invisible virus by isolating themselves in their homes for a very, very long time. Many lost their jobs and many more lost their businesses. It wasn’t easy but they got through it because they were strong and because, even in the most difficult of days, they never forgot that they always had Hope.
Stay safe and well. We will all get through this- together.
In love and Hope,