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At 7 pm on Tuesday evenings (if we don’t get afternoon showers), some of the ladies in our neighborhood get together to visit. We are all seniors. Usually six to ten of us show up with our lawn chairs and preferred drinks, sit in one neighbor’s driveway six feet apart without masks, to talk about the news of the week. I’ve been avoiding the group for weeks; I’m not much of a social creature anyway and don’t especially like small talk, but they are very nice women. I’d like to believe that it makes sense to maintain a warm relationship with them, however limited.
Unfortunately, on my last visit a few weeks ago, the conversation inevitably turned to the coronavirus. Almost all of them do the mask/glove/sanitation/wipes routine to the extreme (in my opinion), no matter where they go. At the last gathering I attended, our voices became so loud that one of the husbands came out of his home to see if a brawl had broken out. I was the one guilty of causing the volume escalation; I was trying to explain my reasons for refusing to wear a mask everywhere, and suddenly everyone had to (loudly) express their alarm. (I did not say anyone should follow my lead.) I refused to be shouted down, and, well, it got noisy. One woman said her husband had a periodic bout with cancer, and she would never want to go somewhere and pick up the virus, exposing him to it. She was clearly insinuating that I was dooming my husband to certain death* since he has a lung condition (I know she was trying to make me feel guilty since I said that my husband supported my decisions and clearly did not feel I was endangering his life, and she wouldn’t look me in the eye.) When it was time to go home, we all parted with friendly words, but the tension was still in the air.
I’m thinking of attending the group again this evening. A part of me wants to see if I can behave myself and not antagonize them. Another part of me acknowledges my real reluctance about going: being surrounded by frightened people who feel like victims.
All my life I’ve had a very hard time being empathic with people who (I believe) are irrationally feeling victimized or frightened. Certainly, there are reasons to be concerned with the coronavirus, but the fear in this group is palpable. I realize that it probably triggers my own fears, carefully hidden and restrained. Nevertheless, given that I want to maintain a good relationship with all of them (because they are fine women and neighbors), I want simply to be able to be present to their fear, be a supportive and caring force, and accept the inevitable conversation about the virus.
Still, if you hear screaming women across the miles, you’ll know where it’s coming from.
(If it doesn’t rain and I follow through on visiting, I’ll let you know how it goes.)
*Lately I’ve been wearing a mask when I go out since I realize how frightened people are by those who don’t wear them.Published in