Imagine if you would — without warning and quite against your freewill — you find yourself traveling to another dimension.
It is a dimension of sight and sound and mind. It lies between the pit of our fears and the summit of our knowledge. It came quietly and is invisible, yet deadly. It knows nothing of the norms of regular society but creates its own rules. It is both ruthless and relentless; no one is safe. You are moving into a land of shadows and substance, of life and death.
This happens quickly. Before you realize where you are, you are someplace never before imagined. You look for a way back, but there seems to be no exit.
The only way forward is the signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the COVID Zone.
You look around and see things have changed. Everyone has changed. Every aspect of life has changed.
It’s hard to tell friends from foes. People have most of their faces covered. Smiling with your eyes has taken on new meaning. Seeing someone’s mouth move as they speak is impossible. Lipstick sales have plummeted and everyone’s hair is at least two inches longer than you remember it being — before.
We’ve learned the hard way that Q-Tips aren’t just for ears anymore. Our noses know this firsthand. Ouch.
Reality includes a new term — “social distancing.” You find yourself longing for hugs, handshakes and high-fives, but they no longer exist. Things you never used to give a second thought — sanitizing gel, bleach and toilet paper — are sought after commodities.
Some stores no longer accept cash. How did COVID create a national coin shortage? A penny for your thoughts on that.
In many places, at-home gatherings are limited to small numbers. Large families were forced to spend Thanksgiving apart. No one needed a 25-pound turkey this year. Birthday parties no longer require candles. Blowing them out is out of the question and a memory from the past.
Most large public gatherings are deemed forbidden and unsafe. Weddings and funerals have been canceled, postponed or never planned at all. These life events used to mean reconnecting with loved ones, sharing joy and sorrow and finding closure in a loss. That’s no longer possible in many cases, and it hurts.
Churches, restaurants, beauty salons and more have often paid the price in this new COVID Zone.
The home is the new hub. Children attend school there. Parents work there, often wearing too many hats to mention. Tensions can run high. Teachers are feeling themselves pulled in directions never before known. They struggle to make distance learning effective, successful and fun. (God bless our teachers!)
Hospitals overflow with patients and are running out of room. Medical staff — other true heroes of this surreal COVID Zone — engage in literal combat every day and have seen the reality of this disease like no others. (God bless the medical community!)
People are suffering and not just from the disease. They are lonely. They are depressed. They are ill with other ailments and have to choose between treatment and isolation or ignoring their symptoms in order to stay with family. I know this truth firsthand. Some are dying alone. The only thing worse than dying is dying alone.
Not everything about the COVID Zone has been negative.
We’ve reconnected as families. We’ve rediscovered meals together and cooking from scratch. Many of us have mastered yeast, and not the infectious kind. In some cases we can no longer go to restaurants, but food delivery has become easier and more accessible.
Curbside pickup for groceries is the new catch-all, end-all. We stay at home and do more than ever before. Shopping? Online. Seeing a doctor or therapist? Telemedical is the new black. Worship? That’s online, too.
We’ve become a culture that doesn’t need human contact to survive; yet I believe we are a culture that requires human contact to survive.
I’m rooting for a future that includes hugs, handshakes, high-fives and the human race. Game on, COVID Zone. I’m searching the horizon for an exit ramp and plan to take the first one I see.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.