Pandemic Artifacts – Part I (of III)


Sometimes, often, we need to look back at, as well as from the outside of circumstances to realize that there are themes that emerge, and the pandemic was no exception. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown gave us a unique opportunity (albeit at great cost) to look back at a year of new things and old ones, and to look inward.

We were inspired to do things but we were also inspired to slow down and do no things.

Recently, as lockdown, and at the same time, the school year came to a close, my daughter’s teacher gave the class a multi-dimensional project to look back on their pandemic and recognize some of the things that got them through the last year plus. The project and subsequent presentation included themes from memoir, historic timelines, artifacts, creative non-fiction, presentation, and art. Each component was unique and I was excited watching her accomplish each one and it gave me a perfect prompt for my next writing group. It went over very well with my friends, and as I wrote and read my submission, I began to notice themes.

Initially, I had chosen nine photos from across the year, and in laying them out to write about them, I saw that they unintentionally and neatly fell into three distinct sections:

  1. Keeping Safe: Hand-washing, lockdown, information, and isolation.
  2. Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.
  3. Looking Outward: spirituality, new things, and road trips.

The following three part series explores those themes and the significance of some of those pandemic artifacts for me, and hopefully you’ll think of the small or not-so-small things that got you through this unprecedented, uncharted pandemic year.

I created my own timeline (in retrospect) and divided it into three sections, beginning and ending with the first and third photo of each line of my original nine photos. The first third of the timeline and the original photo appear below. I would note that the sections are not evenly split; the first third has significantly more milestones than the other two in what seems like a much shorter time. In those beginning times, I think we were all so surprised by how quickly everything just stopped, even time it seemed.

Timeline, Part 1.
Blue = Winter, Green = Spring, Pink = Summer.
1-3: Hand Sanitizer, Hand-washing Haiku, Hand-sewn Finger Labyrinth.

My kids easily took to remote learning. With my husband already working from home, we were both surprised at how quiet the house was. We expected arguments between our two youngest, and the house was eerily quiet. It was easy to forget there were four people in there at the same time. We went shopping about twice a week, buying two gallons of milk at a time, buying toilet paper hand sanitizer, and soap whenever we were in the store and they had it in stock (and whichever brand they had in stock – no time to be picky). I spent my mornings watching NY’s governor do the daily press briefing that everyone across the country was lacking nationwide. I often screenshot it and posted it to my Facebook, and I was gratified by the friends who thanked me for it. Some were still working, and weren’t able to see them; others were glad to get information and facts.

It was soon after that I established my Covid Information Center. This made me feel productive instead of useless in this situation. I was able to offer what I knew, and shared others’ information and activities, especially Chef Jose Andres who, with his family brought a calming voice to those of us now cooking daily. Podcasts and Spiritual Leaders really stepped up as well (special shout out to Crooked Media, Preet Bharara, Father James Martin, and Pope Francis). When this series is finished, I’ll include a separate Bibliography, something like a “follow Friday” for you to check out any you may have missed. The one thing I appreciated was the we’re all in this together outlook that encompassed most of us.

Let me tell you about my first three photos.

Hand sanitizer

Early in the pandemic, my husband was asked to go into the office to collect and scan some papers. Despite working from home already, he had been doing this sporadically for the previous six months, but now that everything was shut down, we weren’t sure that he should go in. We had no idea at this point when they would open up again or how bad the pandemic/epidemic would get. There was no toilet paper on the shelves, no soap or hand sanitizer. It was a really scary time. I remember sitting in my chair while he worked in the other room; the kids already “at” school in their bedrooms, and I was just left to worry and to think about where we would go from here.

We had a serious talk about him not going in, but in the end we agreed that he would go. He’d need a mask, and he’d have to wash his hands before and after. We were undecided about changing his clothes. This was in the real beginning of things when we knew literally nothing about transmission.
While he was there he texted me that his manager’s desk had a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I asked if he could bring it home, and after checking, he did.

He gave me this little bottle as soon as he arrived home that afternoon – a precious gift that I carried in my purse every time we went out, which was only for grocery shopping at this point.
I think one of the thing the pandemic showed us was that the little things are the important things. This small bottle of hand sanitizer was like a gold nugget in 1849. The four of us at home together, no arguing, everyone helping everyone else, school work getting done. Except for the scare, it was kind of pleasant in our house. We also know how lucky we are.

Hand-washing haiku

My annual summer scavenger hunt got together all through the lockdown to give us something to do at home. I believe there were six, and I participated in five. The first one was twenty-four hours of pure mayhem. No physical meetings, no in person collaborations. There was charity work, political work, a little craziness, but all of it to be done in your own homes. I usually took the writing assignments, although I did make a couch potato, but that’s something else. At this point in the pandemic (end of April 2020), we were being told to constantly wash our hands or use hand sanitizer, including in our own homes. The item was to write a haiku that encouraged or taught hand-washing and to hang it in the bathroom. As you can see from the picture, I put it up under our mirror, behind the faucets and near the soap. It is now the end of June, more than one year later, and it is still hanging in our bathroom. It’s still a good reminder.

It says:
Soap and warm water
Twenty-seconds-all it takes
Scrub. Rinse. Scrub. Rinse. Done.

Hand-sewn finger labyrinth for travel

This was so hard to do that I actually regret it. The needle was too big for the fabric and too small for the jute string. It was a terrible experience. I’m happy it looks good, and that I can trace its path with my finger easy enough, and it is portable. I may grow accustomed to it. I may also consider re-doing it on cross-stitch material and use cotton floss instead, but I’m not there yet. Another option might be with fabric paint that tends to dry raised, but I’m not a fan of using fabric paint from previous experiences.

When I look at this finished labyrinth though I am happy with it as an object. I’m glad that I can take it with me and use it for contemplation. It also makes me happy to look at it: my very own, portable labyrinth to think on, pray with, just to have it. Now, that I have a hot glue gun, I might be able to make one without the sewing, but the mood hasn’t struck me yet – too many memories of stabbed fingers.

What are some of the things that got you through the last year and a half?

Part II coming soon.

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