Teri Orr: Connections and course corrections amid a pandemic
One week ago, as measures to contain the spread of the pandemic were just starting to radically change behaviors in Our Town, a group of us learned our dear friend had tested positive for … The Flu!
Just days before her 75th birthday she was confirmed NOT to have what her daughter-in-law called The ‘Rona. So we planned a surprise party.
It’s not exactly what you think. We parked on the street above her home and social distanced our 10 selves and two guitars. We walked down to her courtyard/driveway. One of the group called her on her cellphone (no doorbell touch) and said there was something for her outside the front door. Right now. She soon appeared at the door and we started singing “Brown Eyed Girl.” We had dressed in festive attire. We had a few dance moves. Then we shifted quickly into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and she stood the whole time in the late afternoon sun for less than 10 minutes with the widest of grins on her face.
In less than half an hour we were all back in our cars and headed to our respective homes.
Across town, a younger friend was losing her longtime, true companion of more than a dozen years. She knew it was coming — he had been diagnosed some time ago. Seen her through her own cancer and heartache. But morning came and he put his head in her lap and quietly passed. Away? On? I never know the right language but that rescue dog had clearly rescued her and she was acutely aware of that. The sweet vet came and took her main man away and she was left with her grief. The next night her friends called her and said there was a ruckus outside her home and she should look out her window — the cops were there. Anxious, she walked to the window and saw not the cops but a giant heart in the street made of lit candles in all shapes and sizes to pay tribute to her loss. The Facebook photo made all us who knew her pain and couldn’t hug her — cry.
There is some sweetness in this isolation. Gifts of time and room for conversations too often hurried in our BC world (before Corona). I have been part of a couple virtual cocktail hours. My friend named our hangout Quarantini’s. So when the text comes now — “wanna meet at Quarantini’s at 6?” — we know to pour a beverage and settle in for some catch up time. In this case — we are all Park City bound and fully engaged in the happenings in our immediate community.
In California, friends that I traveled with outside of this country and back and forth in this country have hunkered down at their place in Palm Springs and left behind the houseboat in Berkeley. Rick and Greg usually are on planes flying around the country and the world — teaching folks how to choose happiness in corporate and non-profit settings. They both said a strange thing has happened to them. They are calm and sleeping comfortably through the night without their previous hectic travel schedule. They love to cook and have found time and space to do so. They rise and greet the sun on their back porch looking up at the mountain that appears at dawn in a shade of dusty purple haze. I have sat on that porch with them, watched the sunrise and shared affirmations — so it is easy for me to picture them there. But seeing them look so rested and healthy and in love made me calm. And hopeful — for the time we are together again and having some kind of adventure that results — as it always does — in laughter that resembles snorting.
Midweek I took a call from a number I didn’t recognize but I knew the area code to be San Francisco. And to my great delight — it turned out to be my newly discovered relatives who reached out last summer after finding our linkage on 23andMe. They are hunkered down in their warehouse/condo South of Market and are closely following the confines mandated by their smart, forward-thinking governor and (former San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom. He is no stranger to Park City and more than once came to support his wife’s (Jennifer Seibel) documentary film work (“Miss Representation”) during Sundance Film Festivals.
The threads in these two weeks — that I am sensing — of family and community and the community that is family, seem cosmically woven and exquisitely timed. I will need later to crack open one of the many unopened journals I seemed to have accumulated and tucked in various corners of various rooms and scratch out some longer thoughts.
For now — my days of refrigerator Tetris and pantry archeology (how many jars of stone ground mustard does a single person need?) are also marked by sweet moments of human connections that aren’t physical but rather spiritual. Texts that are a kind of haiku — funny emojis I had previously just found annoying and the Sunday newspapers — lifted out of my snowy driveway and placed on my front porch — are all declarations of community.
Look — I get it — the next month — at the very least — is gonna be hard and scary and so, so isolated for our gregarious souls. But it doesn’t mean we shut down. It means we find new ways to connect and honor relationships and create odd celebrations and mark anniversaries and holidays in ways we have never done before. So be kind to yourself so you have space to be kind to others. … It will make all the difference in how we weather the days ahead. May they all start to feel like sweet Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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“If college professors can’t afford homes, then what kind of local worker can who has no outside source of income?” writes Jonathan Thompson. “Certainly not public school teachers, firefighters, cops or journalists. Service workers? Forget about it.”