By Patricia Conover
My mother, wearing her blue velvet robe, sat down gingerly on the bed. She reached over and touched my shoulder.
I sat up.
“You’re not ready,” she said.
The urgency in her voice scared me.
“Not ready for what?”
She looked at me with undisguised impatience.
“The river is flooding. It’s overflowing its banks. You should go to higher ground!”
Now I was frightened. There had been several terrible floods in this little town. Many people lost their homes. But that was long before my time here.
“Everything is fine, Mom,” I said. “We aren’t leaving.”
She looked at me the way she always did when she was alive.
Her eyes were shining and she touched my shoulder again, this time more forcefully.
“You have to take this seriously,” she said. “No one can help you if you don’t leave now.”
And then I woke up.
It was the second time my mother appeared in my bedroom this year. In March, she woke me up and warned me that a hurricane was about to strike.
She told me that we had to pack up and leave quickly and then she disappeared.
Is this COVID-19 angst?
Or is my mother, who has been dead for twenty years, warning me about the toll this catastrophe may take on my family and our entire earth?
It’s true that I’ve lost sleep since we first became aware of the coronavirus. I’m worried about my husband, my family and friends, my community, my country and my world.
My mother used to tell me stories about World War II. She was a little girl living with her parents and older sister in New York City when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
She was panic-stricken. She never forgot her terror when ambulance sirens blared or low-flying planes whirred above the city. She was sure that her apartment building was about to be bombed.
“I hope that you never have to face anything like that,” she said. “I hope you always live in peace.”
Mom died amost exactly one year before 9/11.
Now, we are facing the biggest crisis most of us have ever lived through. Yes, most of us were woefully unprepared for this unseen enemy’s onslaught.
But now, with hard-won experience, research, and understanding, we are beginning to win the battle against the coronavirus.
Our arsenal consists of sheltering in place, social distancing, washing our hands, disinfecting every surface, and wearing masks and gloves.
The real hard work of fighting against this invisible foe is also, strangely, invisible.
The most advanced minds in every country around the globe are working day and night to find a cure for COVID-19. Behind the scenes, far from the headlines, scientists, biologists, and doctors are working to develop a cure.
They’re figuring it out piece-by-piece and sharing information at an unprecedented rate.
So whether my mother is visiting me, or my unconscious mind is working to consolidate my anxiety into a more familiar and less terrifying narrative, I’m hopeful about the future.
The next time my mother stops by, I’m going to say:
“You’re right, Mom, we were not ready for this crisis. I’m frightened. But the greatest minds are co-operating with each other without regard to borders in a race to find a cure. So don’t worry about us. We’ll be okay.”
Oh, and one more thing:
“Mom, come by anytime! I love seeing you. I miss you! Next time, bring Dad along. We’ll catch up.”
Patricia Conover worked at G.P Putnam’s Sons and Random House in New York City before becoming a freelance writer for publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian, Kirkus Reviews and The Montclair Local.
Patricia is currently a project editor and writer for Going Global, publisher of guidebooks on culture, careers, economies, education, health, and travel. She is also an English and Writing instructor. You can connect with Patricia on twitter @ParisRhapsody.
Patricia landed in Portland after working in publishing for ten years on the East Coast. She was inspired to write about the experience of being a fish out of water: A New Yorker in Oregon. Three stories later, she stopped by my office to drop off her typewritten pages. Yes, it was pre-internet times. We published those original stories and many more in The Oregonian. A few years after that first meeting, I had to convince Patricia that a computer was necessary if she wanted to continue her writing career. She bought an Apple laptop and has never looked back. I’m pretty sure she still has her Royal typewriter in her closet — just in case. — GR