Life Notes: Getting to know you
What I learned about my husband, our marriage and life during social separation

The last carton was finally unpacked. This was a cause for celebration after our second move in just two years. But that celebration ground to a halt almost instantly. There was news far larger, exponentially more vital, and surely more cosmic.

Seems that a new virus was spreading mayhem and madness around the globe, and our own preoccupation with settling into our new universe had blurred that. But not for long.

In a 60-year marriage, we’ve weathered our share of storms and traumas, both personal and global, and we figured that we would weather this one too. In a couple of days of social isolation, life would go back to normal. But by the time you read this, you know how wrong one couple can be.

Sure, we were increasingly upset as life as we all knew it vanished. But we were going to outwit this siege, we told ourselves. We’d quietly settle  in, share the joy of a new place and of course do that in perfect harmony.

OK, maybe not perfect. But two presumably rational adults with a lifetime of experiences as parents and grandparents should certainly be able to handle some stress.

We lived up to that plan for about one day and one night. Then suddenly, a voice I hardly recognized as mine accused my poor husband of driving me crazy by humming.

“Will you stop that!” I demanded when Vic, who has quite a nice voice, offered his rendition of “God Bless America.” As he explained, he thought it would cheer us. I felt not only like a shrew, but also unpatriotic and horrible. Where once little tempests went unnoticed, during our “house arrest” the tiniest annoyances magnified into not just skirmishes, but world wars.

Two once-sane people actually argued about who left sections of the newspaper scattered and why that was a war crime in our new apartment. The question of food was simplified when it was recognized that supermarkets were off-limits, especially for our age cohort. We were enormously lucky to have a food service – but not so lucky that our lifelong food preferences are vastly different. So choosing in-apartment dinner choices was a long and sometimes contentious experience. I do admit a tendency to comment about my husband’s dietary choices – and then to take teeny little nibbles for myself.

In frequent advisory calls from our three daughters, the reshuffling of authority became a daily drama of its own. We knew they meant well with their many warnings to stay put. But tempers were a bit frayed.

We surely were not the only family that found ourselves addicted to 24-hour cable news – with endless reports of terrible losses. I admit that as someone who has chronicled ordinary life as a longtime columnist, I felt most days as if we were all living in a parallel universe and painfully unwelcome.

“So what have you learned about yourselves,” a good friend asked me. It took a while for me to stutter an answer. First, enormous gratitude that at least for now, we were not among those horrible statistics. We began to cherish life itself. Waking up in the morning. Seeing the sunshine on the days when it gifted us by coming out. A reverence for simplicity and the most ordinary gifts: an outdoor walk, a chance to talk to grandchildren in ways we never had before and gratitude for having our nuclear and extended family in our lives.

Confession: I learned that I could live a satisfying life without even stepping into a store even though, I admit, I am a shop-a-holic. Tiny lessons these, but still valuable.

I recognize that the sniping and occasional short tempers aside, my husband and I are growing closer. We were reminded that to get through this we need each other even more. And on several of these long days, we’ve enjoyed reading to each other. That became one of our most delightful discoveries.

We learned that despite having separate lives and careers for decades, we still had a storehouse of memories that are ours alone.

Read more Life Notes here.

May 2020
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