I think all of us have personal beliefs that help us function in this increasingly unpredictable world of ours. They are internalized rock-solid truths that allow us to go about our lives with confidence. Among the stones of this foundation are several I have named “Things That Will Never Happen to Me.” I call these my world view.
One of those stones was carved with Boats I am on will not sink. I have been on hundreds of boat trips in my life—some, a little scary—but I have always made land safely … until one summer when Heather, Jen, and I rented a paddle boat and went cruising around Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe. All was well. There was a little bit of a swell, but I was sure we were okay, paddling around on the turquoise-and-sapphire water.
Then Jen said to me, “Mom, there’s a lot of water in here.”
I didn’t even look, but replied, “A little water is okay.”
We continued for a few minutes, and Jen repeated in a higher register, “There’s really a lot of water in here.”
And with that, the paddleboat became perpendicular, dumping all three of us into the chilly water of Lake Tahoe. I was more shocked by the boat sinking than by the icy water and 100-yard swim to shore. And so my foundation shifted as I incorporated that sinking was possible.
When I was a child, I was no stranger to loss. By age seventeen, I had lost two sisters, a nephew, and a cousin—all young people with lifetimes ahead of them. Rather than make me wary, somehow through the years I built into my world view that Unexpected death will not visit my doorstep, because I got all that done during my second decade.
On February 2, 2020, our precious grandson James died in a motorcycle crash, and the entire foundation rumbled and shifted as though a giant earthquake had taken our family and shaken it. Together with faith, friends, and an incredible outpouring of love, we made it through this nightmare of loss. Now I hold each and every family member and friend loosely in my hands while cherishing the moments we have right now. Grief will knock on the door again, but for now each minute with those I love is precious.
As a public health nurse, I am no stranger to communicable disease. I have done hundreds of investigations, including one on a sentinel case of AIDS in the United States. I watched firsthand as this scourge unfolded. I also worked on several outbreaks of disease, like measles and food-borne infections. One memorable day, I found a bubonic plague investigation in my inbox. One infection. It went no further, stopped by modern medicine.
In my world view, Epidemics do not blaze across our blessed and entitled nation, nor do pandemics set our planet on fire with rampant disease and death. But COVID-19 came along, and my foundation shifted again as I realized just how vulnerable we are. But we had tools: masks, distancing, hand-washing, isolating. Eventually, there were vaccines, boosters, and treatments. All you had to do was follow the rules and hope others did too. The foundation firmed as a new boulder settled in its place: I will never get COVID.
By Christmas of 2021, the omicron COVID variant had hit our county, along with several much-needed rain storms. The family decided to gather for our usual Christmas morning extravaganza. People who had had colds were tested. No one came who was sick. And we had a glorious time. Outside, cold rain came down, but inside the fire and our collective body heat kept us warm. We listened respectfully as Zeke read the Bible passage in Luke, and John placed the baby Jesus in the creche. We dined on the traditional breakfast of eggs Benedict and homemade pastries, and finally opened gifts, laughing and loving just being together.
Then, on December 28, the first family member came down with a “cold.” Soon, six more, including John and I, had the same symptoms. These were followed by positive COVID tests and more sick relatives. I finally accepted that I had COVID and that several family members had probably been infected on Christmas. The foundation was rocking and rolling.
What had I done wrong? As I struggled with the coldlike symptoms of omicron, I felt like I had been running a relay race and had just dropped the baton. Was I exhausted by the distance? Shame washed over my public health soul. Then I called my doctor. She said, “One family came in and had every single person tested, and now half are sick.”
I felt relieved. I’ve got this. And every sick person in our family, all vaccinated, is on the mend. We have experienced the worst and will survive. But that won’t happen for everyone who gets this, and I accept that with some feelings of remorse.
And so, time passes. Here in the desert, I have had a week to let the dust from this grinding of my foundation settle as I seek a new equilibrium. Looking out at the immutable jagged peaks of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range, I realize all of nature goes through this eroding letting-go process. I believe we call this living. The trick is to try to do this bravely. With faith, with those who love us, with humor and a keen awareness of our lack of self-importance, life continues no matter how shattered we feel. And although I’m still experiencing a few tremors, I’m moving on.