On the Brink

On the brink… on PA’s 1,000 Steps Trail

More reflections amid the pandemic… By Karen Hendricks

After six or seven weeks in quarantine-land, I feel like I’m “on the brink.”

Some days it feels like I’m standing on the edge of a proverbial cliff, taking in the scenery of our new normal, and feeling pretty positive—counting my blessings, and processing it all with my feet firmly planted on solid footing. Other days, not so much. I could easily slide over the edge of that cliff, dragging my cabin with me—from the worst case of cabin fever ever.

And then when the phrase “cabin fever” pops into my head, I remind myself that I should be grateful that I have a cabin (home) so that I can indeed shelter in place. And then I remember why all the medical experts recommended quarantine against this crazy virus, which leaves me feeling guilty because in the grand scheme of things, maybe I don’t have it so bad. All I need to do is stay put, stay safe, abide by the stay-at-home orders and “be.” It doesn’t sound hard, so why is it?

Maybe it’s because we were on the brink of spring, still in the infancy of 2020, when all this hit. I feel cheated, as if the calendar is in some slow sick reversal of time. Instead of bursting forth into spring activities—proms and graduations, baseball games, summer vacation planning, let’s go!—we’re rewinding back into the cooped-up winter doldrums. Some of the brightest highlights of my life in quarantine are when I “escape” cabin fever by taking a run or working in my garden (which thankfully is starting to show signs of spring). I have never been behind actual prison bars, but going for a run feels a little like a jailbreak—making a real run for it. And no matter how many miles I run, it’s never far enough to truly escape coming back to the reality of our new normal. How I wish I could just keep running.

And there’s another big brink in sight. As a society, our communities, businesses, and states are on the brink of reopening. But the very definition of a brink is an edge—an edge with an element of danger. And like all societal issues, there are edges to many of the arguments being tossed into the abyss between the pro and con factions. Which reminds me, sadly, that everything is heightened into a political issue these days.

The gung-ho pro-openers want to rush over the brink and jump headfirst, back into the business of everyday life. And who can blame them? Many are on the brink of losing their jobs and businesses. My heart breaks for small business owners especially, because as we approach this brink, I know they can’t all possibly have parachutes on their backs.

And not that anyone is exactly con, or against, reopening, but at the other extreme, some are approaching the brink with baby steps—they want to reopen slowly, steadily and surely. And who can blame them? This is all unprecedented, and where brinks are concerned, proceeding with caution sounds like a good idea.

But the ultimate brink to me is health-related. There are those fighting for their lives, battling COVID-19, on the brink of death. There are healthcare workers on the brink of being worked to death. One of my favorite cities in the world, New York City is on the brink—or maybe already over the brink—of massive tragedy. There’s an ever-spiraling-higher fatality count approaching 70,000. How can 70,000 people dying, especially within the span of a few weeks, “not” bring anyone to the brink of a sobering reality check?

So surveying the scene, considering all the facts and arguments swirling around us like a brisk breeze at the brink, I honestly feel paralyzed. I don’t know whether to plan anything for 2020, or to write off the entire year. I don’t know if and when I’ll see—and hug!—friends and family in person, or whether we’re looking at virtual visits via Zoom for the indefinite future. As much as I want to move on with life, I’m also afraid that if we move too fast we’ll end up right back where we started. I don’t know whether it’s safe to leave my house—face covering on, hand sanitizer ever-handy, social distancing mental mindset switched on—or to toss these items aside like a bad choice in Halloween costume, and just. leave. the. house. Or, do I stay put, holed up? I don’t know whether to take a step forward or backward, toward the brink or away from it.

And because I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, I do the one thing, the only thing I’m still sure about these days. I lean on my faith. While I’m stuck in this gray area of muck, stuck on the brink.

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