An anonymous narrator who lives on Madison's north side describes his experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Safer at Home order. The narrator discusses the differences in his neighborhood while schools and many businesses are closed, and how his long-time meditation practice is helping him stay present and mindful during this time.
[START OF RECORDING]
[00:00:01] - Connection to Madison
[00:00:59] - Experiences during early weeks of pandemic and Safer at Home
[00:03:15] - Effects on lives of family and friends
[00:04:35] - Impact on the neighborhood
[00:06:19] - Impact of meditation on the experience
[00:08:12] - Current worries?
[00:09:02] - A story that stands out to you?
[00:10:38] - Changes in lives of friends or family
[00:12:50] - Wrap-up
Interviewer: My name is Danny Atwater and I am a Library Assistant for Madison Public Library. This interview is being recorded as part of the Madison Living History Project “Safer-at-Home Story Series.” Today’s date is Thursday April, 16 2020 and this interview is being conducted via video-conferencing software, Zoom. I have with me an anonymous individual today. I would like you to please describe your connection to Madison.
Narrator: I moved to Madison actually twenty years ago this spring and I moved here because it is such a wonderful, liberal city. And, definitely consider myself to be a Madisonian at this point. A north-sider. I’m involved in a few different community organizations and a meditation group. And I’m a small business owner.
Interviewer: Very good, thank you. What have the last few weeks looked like for you, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the safer-at-home order from the governor?
Narrator: Yeah, in many ways the last few weeks really have not been much different than my normal life. I am self-employed and so, I’m used to working alone at home with my dog and, you know, my meetings and everything happen remotely and I work __(??) days. So, a lot of just my actual day-to-day has been just like it would normally.
The differences are, you know, I am not seeing my boyfriend. We don’t live together and—we’re both practicing safer-at-home and, you know, that’s been hard to adapt but I know our relationship is really strong because, you know, in this we have been really supportive of each other. And it’s giving us the opportunity to see each other in different ways. Going for walks and last, two weekends ago, we had—when it was nice out—we had a fire in the backyard and a picnic and then we were able to take a really nice walk along the lake. And I think sometimes, you know, for all of us we get so busy with our day-to-day and our routines that we don’t always have the opportunity to kind of forge new paths with each other. So, in some ways, that’s been a little bit interesting doing things with people that I wouldn’t normally do.
Another kind of fun thing that I’ve done a few times now in the past few weeks is have Zoom dinner parties with friends and that’s always kind of fun. The first time there was some dress-up in hats and general silliness that happened but, again I feel like that affords the opportunity to be present with each other in a different way. And it’s, you can’t really, you know, space out or get on your phone or do the things that you would normally do in your, in your (unintelligible).
Interviewer: You mentioned that you work from home and that your life is not too different, especially in that respect. What do you see is the difference for others who are close to you? Like your family and friends and with your partner, what do you see are the differences in their lives right now?
Narrator: Yeah, I think it’s, for me it’s been this idea of really holding space and seeing that this is really hard for people. I have been self-employed for, I think, ten years now, or more, twelve years. And so, you know, I’ve got a routine and it can be really hard for people when they don’t suddenly have that built-in routine of commuting and of having a really structured work day while they’re at work. Of being, like, accountable. And, so, yeah, a lot of people in my life are really stressed out and really having a hard time. They’re joking about, you know, eating all day and that’s probably actually not a joke, and people feeling—I’m a really introverted people. I have a few friends that are extroverted and I know that this is just extraordinarily difficult on them not having that social outlet.
Interviewer: When you look out your window, what is your neighborhood like right now?
Narrator: That’s one of the really cool things about coronavirus. I would say that historically I've always felt like my neighborhood is kind of a sleepy neighborhood. I bought a house on the North side a few years ago and a lot of the houses in this neighborhood were purchased and built, you know, seventy years ago. And then behind me the neighborhood was built in the eighties and so a few of the houses on my block are being purchased by younger couples but there are a lot of retired people living in my neighborhood that, and, and elderly people, that bought their houses new and so I think of my neighborhood as being sleepy.
However, with COVID-19, I have been shocked; there are kids that live in the neighborhood. I had no idea. I have woods by my house and I was out doing some yard work a few weekends ago and the, the woods across the street you could hear screaming and laughter and I mean the kids were playing some kind of hide-and-seek tag game. And one of them was climbing in a tree and I mean there was like ten or fifteen of them. So I was just surprised because I don’t often think of my neighborhood as being so alive. And so, that, that is one thing I’ve noticed with people home, people are out and about and I’m seeing families spending time together. And that’s just not something I’ve really seen in Madison much. People, families being together outside. Families walking together, families spending time together that’s not driven by some form of technology.
Interviewer: You mentioned that you have a meditation practice, do you think that that helps you see these good things in a different way? That it helps inform your current situation?
Narrator: Yes, 100 percent. I was talking with a friend about this earlier today that I’ve had a meditation practice for fifteen years now and sometimes I ask myself, like, Why am I doing this, you know? And since COVID-19 and, and the pandemic and Safer-at-Home have been in place, I’ve realized this is, this is what I’ve been practicing for. Specifically the, the meditation practice is really helping me with the idea of—it’s so easy to think that I have control over what’s going to happen tomorrow. That, you know, it’s, this would be a really a time to worry; am I going to have work? Am I going to have money? Am I, you know, like, all of these things. The meditation practice really helps me just stay in the present today. And, you know, I may or may not have work tomorrow, whether I worry about it or not is certainly not going to change the outcome of that. It’s just going to, you know, do more harm on my body and my mind and so the meditation practice has been very helpful. I think leaning in to the practices more over the last couple of weeks have been really paying off and I’m feeling, you know, not depressed and sad where a lot—I know a lot of people—are really, just are very wrought with worry and fear and sadness and upset and having a hard time looking and finding positives.
Interviewer: Are there things that worry you right now?
Narrator: Honestly, I would say no more than normal. I mean, you know, we’re all going to die at some point. I am definitely present to that whether that happens now or forty years from now, or, you know, next week, like, I certainly don’t know the answer to that. So, I do have some savings and so, you know, I’ll be okay for some time. And I also think, you know, my practice helps me see that the most important thing are the people in my life, my community and the people that I love and the people that love me. And, you know, everything else is just material possessions and those are all replaceable, so—
Interviewer: Are there any particular stories, whether they are news stories or stories you’ve heard from friends or family, that stand out to you, either on a local level or on a national level?
Narrator: I think going back, maybe this isn’t a story but it was an event. Going back to the sort of Thursday kind of before this got really real, I have some good friends that live in Ithaca, New York, and she posted and said that there was a live-stream of a friend of theirs that was a doctor and encouraged me to listen to it. And he gave, like, this hour and a half talk on about what they knew about the coronavirus and I mean, I think stuff was already kind of happening faster in New York City. And just listening to him, he spoke so eloquently and had so much information and was not speaking out of fear or, you know, trying to scare people but it was just very factual. I still think back to that a lot because that’s when I was, like, this, that, you know, people were still like, “I’m not staying at home, this is stupid.” And I listened to him speak and that was the moment for me that I understood that this was going to be much, much, much greater and harmful and a period of great sadness and loss for our nation than anybody probably could really even have imagined.
Interviewer: Have there been any friends or family that you’ve been in contact with that are experiencing different lives right now as well?
Narrator: Like, you mean loss or sick with COVID-19?
Interviewer: Whether anybody is sick or how their lives have been changed by this right now.
Narrator: Yeah, you know, I, early on I knew someone who is quite young on the, was one of the, a handful of the first individuals who tested positive and they reported that, that they, that was, you know, sicker than they’ve ever been and they felt like they just had the flu and thought they were getting better and then suddenly they took a turn for the worse. And, you know, there was that moment where they weren’t sure they were going to make it and that really put things into perspective for me, if, if that’s the experience of a young person.
You know, I think I—you know my parents live in a retirement community. And they were being really resistant getting on board with social distancing and safer-at-home. And I sent them an, they live in a rural community where it just doesn’t seem like the urgency is as strong, and I sent them an article about some of the things that happened early on and in the Pacific Northwest and I am grateful that they read the article because then that really changed their mind. And they packed up and now they’re at, luckily they have a, a farm in a more rural, even more rural location than where they live and so they’re at their homestead, their, their farm cabin, until further notice. So, it’s interesting because I have been communicating with them much more than I normally would and so we have a group text going back and forth. They are doing lots of puzzles, which is sweet.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about right now? That maybe came to mind while you were talking but didn’t quite fit into the questions.
Narrator: I think the only thing I’ll say is that, you know when faced with tragedy I think it’s really easy to see everything that’s wrong and it’s much more difficult to see what’s right. And one of the things that I’ve been really focusing on that’s been very helpful during this are finding gifts so, you know, I was talking with a friend today whose work has been shifted a little bit due to this and they’ve been able to do some professional development stuff and they were sharing all of this amazing stuff that they’re learning. And that’s ultimately going to make them a better employee and probably a, really a, more productive community member and so, I don’t know, I was just reminded once again that if I’m really willing to look for it I can always find a positive. And, you know, nothing is going to change the situation and, and the issues that we’re facing right now and this is definitely a big event in our lives. And at the same time, I think if I’m being a person of wisdom and balance I am looking at both the positives, you know, and also the negatives of course, but being willing to see that maybe this gives us some opportunities also to grow as a nation. To maybe put our phones down and be a little bit more present with each other and, you know, soften the divides a little bit and remember that we’re all human and that maybe we could be doing a little better job loving each other. And maybe this is an opportunity for that, an opening for that.
Interviewer: Well, I want to thank you so much for sharing with us today.
Narrator: Thank you. Thanks for asking me.
[END OF RECORDING]