Social Distancing

On March 1st I woke up went for a run on the Seine. It’s usually not a large crowd there – the Parisians are too busy buying croissants or caressing whoever they brought home last night to be up, exercising on a Sunday morning. But I arrived to find it PACKED! What’s going on here, I wondered? Is someone passing out free crepes today and no one told me?

Then I saw numbers plastered on people’s top halves and realized it was all the non-Frenchies who had come to Paris to run the marathon – doing their own, mini-version. It was canceled just the day before by Macron and he also put a halt on all public activities moving forward. He then closed the Louvre (sacre-bleu!) and issued an official proclamation urging French people to stop doing “la bise” – which is what they call the traditional French way of greeting where are you kiss each other on both cheeks. That was two weeks ago.

Ha! I thought when I read that. Not even the plague could stop the French from kissing one another! They will bise,  smooch,  and make-out in public regardless of how serious this virus gets. That was two weeks ago.

Yesterday, I saw French people actually elbow-bumping each other as a form of greeting. All upcoming social gatherings are canceled, (including my best friend’s upcoming wedding) and going out is highly discouraged. When I heard yesterday that The Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, Versailles, and all major museums are closed until further notice – I officially decided I have nothing to live for. France without Mickey, Marie Antionette, M. Gustave Eiffel, Matisse AND no making out on the street? These are scary times.

I actually spent the last week outside of Paris, so I wasn’t sure what the mood felt like here. I took a quick trip to London, came back late Tuesday night, and left Wednesday morning for a press trip to Deauville, a charming seaside town in France. I woke up there Thursday morning to the news that President Trump closed the border, and for the first time felt scared.

How was it just two weeks ago that I was blissfully meandering through the fresh market eating and gooey, cheese crepe, and to the Mussee des Arts et Metiers. Now, I’m not supposed to leave the house?

My family and friends in New York are sending me photos of empty grocery stores and lines wrapping around parking lots at COSTCO. These are scenarios we’ve all read in books or seen in movies, but never imagined we’d experience.

And though we’d like to – we can’t really say people are over-reacting because no one knows how to act. What’s the protocol here?

As much as I joke that being trapped in France would be my ultimate dream, I be acutely aware of the fact that I have no family here. If the country goes into lockdown, it would be me and Mops – my pink, stuffed dog I’m too old to still sleep with. Now seems like the opportune time to purchase the real dog I’ve been lusting over for years, but considering I might need to flee the country at a moment’s notice – I don’t think I will.

While Paris is still relatively calm – with store shelves full, restaurants operating, and people still on the streets – I’m mentally and emotionally prepared for that to change at any moment. And like most – I am staying in as much as I can, practicing compulsive hand-washing, and doing daily breathing checks to make sure I am healthy.

This is affecting everyone in some way now. But as someone who always looks for some kind of silver lining – maybe there is one. A worldwide pandemic like this brings craziness, yes, but it also brings out kindness, humility, and love.

It reminds us to be considerate of each other.
It reminds us how privileged our day-to-day lives are.
It reminds us how quickly everything can change, and how lucky we are to wake up healthy.
It reminds us to check in on friends and family, and make sure they are okay.
It reminds us how little our success matters, our ego matters.
It encourages us to talk to neighbors, and help the elderly.
It reminds us to spend time in with the people who matter most.

I had to cancel my flight to New York set for next week. I was supposed to go home and visit my family for two weeks – see my parents, my sisters and their babies, and watch my nephew make his first communion. But I didn’t feel right boarding a plane for eight hours amid the chaos. Nor did I want to take a risk of contracting or spreading the virus. It’s been increasingly hard to be away from them as I watch the world slowly come to a halt. I am an ocean away from the people I love most, and while I’ve gotten all-to-good at spending time alone, it’s a different feeling when it’s not by choice.

I think we are wondering the same question – how long will this last? What will happen? How many people will not be able to recover? And of course – what can, or should we do?

I don’t need to re-iterate to wash your hands, or stay inside, or not travel. But I will share some ideas of what to do to use this unusual time for your benefit:
As a freelancer, I already work from home. As a recent-divorcee (weirdest thing I’ve ever had to call myself) I already spend a lot of time on my own. Perhaps I’m more prepared for social distancing and self-quarantining than anyone. So maybe I can offer some advice.

Use this time well. The world has stopped – we are off work and school, trapped indoors, and all possible distractions are canceled.

So, let’s use this time to connect with ourselves and our loved ones. Let’s seek our passions, do all the things we say we don’t have time for. With no alarm clock going off and 8am meeting to get to, linger in bed a little longer. Cuddle the person who sleeps next to you. Tell them you appreciate how they take care of you and that you love them.

With no work dinners, social functions, or after school activities to be at – stay in and cook – real food. Pull down the recipe book and attempt something new, and sit around the table as a family and eat a meal together.

Read. Learn. Turn off crappy television shows and better your mind. There are countless ways to do that.

If you’re home with your kids – cherish it. Take away their iPads and make them draw, paint, create. Pull out board games, and make cookies, and open your closet and let them play dress up.

People in Italy are sitting on their balconies singing. If you haven’t seen the videos, go watch them – but grab the tissues first. It is one of the most simply beautiful things I’ve ever seen a group of people do.

Scary times remind us that there is nothing we need more than each other.
They unite us, that’s the silver lining.

Be safe, be smart, be kind.

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