Pause in a pandemic

Holding on while our world’s on hold

When we returned home from the hospital following the birth of our second daughter Emaline just a few months ago, we agreed to limit the plans we made for a while and to allow ourselves the time and energy to adjust to our new world as a family of four. While we were doing so — and promising ourselves we’d never take a good night’s sleep for granted again — we followed the news of coronavirus (COVID-19) as reports first emerged from China, as my sister emailed from Singapore, and, only a matter of weeks later, as worries began to surface across the United States. As we write this, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases and more than 135 thousand deaths around the world — numbers we know will only worsen and that can’t in any way convey the individual stories of suffering and loss behind every single number.

Since we started Bond & Thomas back in July 2018, we’ve always had an idea of where and when we’d be somewhere else. We were looking forward to a few trips this spring to introduce Emaline to her extended family, to visit with friends, and to explore a bit on our own — and for a while held out an inkling of hope that they might still happen. But within a matter of weeks, if not days, the mere possibility of travel disappeared and its purposes became insignificant compared to efforts to confront the escalating pandemic. After a few weeks of staying in place and maintaining physical distance from others, the notion of what even constitutes travel seems to have changed: to look out a window can feel like an escape, to step outside is an adventure, and to imagine sharing in moments again with others unmediated by a screen, well, a dream.

We’re apprehensive not only about the health and financial well-being of our world at large but also about the community we’ve begun to find after living for several months in Providence, Rhode Island. The cafes and restaurants, the playgrounds and the parks, the museums and the theaters — we miss the places and the people that made these what they were. I’ve been grateful to have the chance to write about some of them for our local alt-monthly. Whether the booksellers adapting their events online or the coffee roasters striving to offset their cafe and wholesale losses, I’ve found it heartening to see how small businesses are being supportive and supported in the face of the crushing challenges they face in both the short and the long term.

We’re far from alone in our sorrow and uncertainty. We’re concerned for ourselves and our loved ones of course. But as the outward world closes in on itself, there can be a tug inward for protection and reassurance. This may deliver comfort, but it’s also a crisis in its own right. The necessity of distance must not break our connections with one another, and we can’t allow the need to care for ourselves to replace the concern and commitment we have toward others. None of the cleavages and inequalities we’re seeing in our world are new, only now starker and more dire — both in our immediate communities and far more broadly in the world as a whole. We’re thinking of family and friends around the globe as well as our neighbors in Providence, and we’re following the news from the towns and cities we’ve each considered our homes over the years — and many other places where we’ve spent time or looked forward to doing so.

Cathlin and I started Bond & Thomas to share reflections and recommendations meant to help anybody else who is traveling, or considering a trip of their own, but the past several weeks have left us feeling rather at a loss. We’re going to extend our pause with writing new articles here, at least until we’re able to look ahead with a little more certainty and to contribute more than reverie.

Just over two years ago, we left New York to embark on our journeys around the world with Eliza and we’ve since welcomed Emaline into that world. We’ve seen how having a child can inform your travels, how traveling can inform your child, and how being away can inform the meaning of home. Taking time away from the familiar, no matter where or for how long, tends to make it easier to notice the details and savor the experiences we all too often overlook or take for granted amidst the regular demands of life. Even though a stay-in-place order is the literal opposite of travel, perhaps we can still make whatever moments we have as meaningful.

I was struck as Cathlin paused while preparing dinner to marvel over the beauty of beans soaking in a cup beside the stove. While washing dishes, I called her over to join me at the window to witness the stars and satellites overhead. On a dry afternoon, I lay on the ground outside beside Eliza to observe ants navigating a dirt mound and we brushed a pathway together along the pavement using an autumn leaf that had lingered until the arrival of spring. With and without music, I whirled Emaline around our kitchen holding an arm around her and my hand in hers. It might sound frivolous to assert joy despite such suffering, and yet we must.

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