Carol was depressed. Long-term isolation does that to people. She has a compromised immune system, so she’s been isolating for about a year.
Lord, has it been that long already?
Her groceries come by delivery. Her dinners are microwavable. She watches a lot of TV. Many of her friendships have fallen by the wayside. So have activities like church, shopping, volunteering, holiday potlucks, and exchanging Christmas gifts.
So when Carol saw the furry creature on her porch last Monday night, it made her feel something warm inside. She felt a little less isolated. The kitten was tan-colored, curled beneath one of her porch chairs, meowing.
The irony here is that Carol is not a cat person. She normally dislikes cats. But then, this wasn’t a cat, was it? This was a friend.
She stooped to pick up the kitten. She fed it. She stroked its fur. It was an instant love connection. She told the cat there was one simple rule to be observed: no sleeping indoors. The animal was to sleep only in the garage. But cats aren’t big on rules. So currently, each night the kitten sleeps on Carol’s forehead.
“I think this cat saved me,” she said. “My house isn’t empty anymore.”
Meanwhile, in Southern Illinois, Larry’s mother passed away. The funeral was socially distanced, only 11 people attended. The family took no chances with its elderly. People spaced themselves apart. The preacher wore a respirator.
After service, Larry was cleaning out his mother’s bedroom when he found boxes in her safe. They contained love letters between Larry’s mother and late father. Hundreds of them.
Each letter, written in perfect penmanship. Each one, using the poetic, flowery language that American lovers once used before they eventually discovered the lyrical qualities of, for example, the pile of poo emoji.
Larry read all the letters in order. He was able to recreate the entire romance between his parents. He relived their lives, beginning with the War, and ending with their twilight years. It was as though they were standing beside him.
“I believe in gifts from above,” Larry said. “This was my Christmas gift.”
This was all happening around the same time something else was happening in East Texas to a guy named Chad.
Ladybugs have always been a big deal to Chad. His mother started this notion when he was a kid. Whenever a ladybug came around it meant good luck. Whenever a ladybug landed on you it meant REALLY good luck.
This pandemic has been hard on Chad. It’s not the masks, the hand sanitizer, or the isolation. It’s a pervading sadness in the air.
Chad lost his job and essentially became homeless. He had to move out of his apartment and live with relatives. His confidence plummeted. He felt like a burden on people. He does gig-work, delivering take-out and groceries. The pay stinks.
Chad made a grim decision last week. He was going to kill himself. He was going to do it in his car. They’d find his body in the front seat, and that would be that. Chad believed he would not be missed.
He wrote a goodbye note. At lunchtime, he crawled into his Toyota, drove to a remote place, and silenced his phone. Then he cried. He cried until he trembled. It was one of those weeping episodes where your nose clogs and you can’t see.
Except he could see. Because he clearly saw the ladybug land on his shirtsleeve. And he clearly saw the deeper meaning, too. Currently, Chad is getting medical treatment.
All thanks to an insect.
And way over in rural Georgia, we have Marcia. She’s a pianist. Not a great one, she admits, but she took lessons throughout childhood.
Each week she gets tested for COVID-19, and when her results come back clear she visits the nursing home to play a spinet piano.
The nursing home residents are so under socialized, Marcia says, it’s almost like a piece of them has already died. But when she plays “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” “You Are My Sunshine,” or anything by Cole Porter, they are resurrected once more.
They tap their feet to Christmas carols. They move their lips and sing. Old women cry and tell Marcia she reminds them of their daughter. Old men ignore social distancing protocols and hold her gloved hand.
Some hug her and tell her, “You’re the first real person I’ve touched this week.”
I believe this pandemic has changed us as human beings. It has broken us. It has frightened us. And it has even killed us. But in many ways it has also rebuilt who we are.
It has exposed the meaningless decorations of daily life we once worried so much about. It has highlighted our best attributes. And revealed our worst.
It has made us mad, made us fight, made us hateful, made us disagree. It has uncovered our selfishness and our godforsaken pride. But it has also made us more lenient, and eager to laugh.
And it has restored our admiration for the simplicity of things like sunrises, or the feeling of a gentle embrace.
It has dampened the idiocy of celebrity worship, delivered a swift blow to narcissism, resurrected paperback books, and reinvigorated the family dinner.
It has amplified acts of anonymous charity. It has glorified the millworker at the gas station buying gas cards for healthcare workers; the single mother who refurbishes laptops for impoverished kids; and the 10-year-old earning money for her 82-year-old neighbor’s Christmas present.
I believe this year has made some of us braver. Quicker to love. Slower to judge. Easier to know. More willing to help. More considerate. More reasonable. And profoundly more human.
But above all…
It has made Carol a cat person.