Three weeks ago in the city to the south in this Latin American country people were partying on the beach. Now they are carrying dead bodies out of houses. Some people in the capital city here lost electricity for a short while. A curfew is in place after 2 pm. Driving is permitted one day a week based on license plate number. We were told before Easter the police suspended the sale of alcohol. Perhaps they are afraid too many people would get drunk to celebrate and hasten their own Ascension. We struggle to find a competent and trustworthy service to order groceries online for delivery. Yesterday I put on a mask and gloves and went to the overpriced tienda nearby to buy milk, vegetables and wine. I waited, breathing into my mask like Darth Vader while a woman in front of me went back and forth several times for more items, then slowly and painfully wrote a check. After the owner rang up my items, I handed over a fistful of cash without checking the total and left, grateful to be outside.
Like everyone else we suffer boredom. After doing yoga and exercises in the morning, we turn the sofa around to face the large window and catch the equatorial sun. It is a challenge not to get on each others’ nerves when you can’t leave the apartment. I know it could be worse. We have food, we’re healthy, and are at minimal risk. There’s some cash in the bank.
As we are witnessing the fallout to our health, economy and relationships from the virus causing COVID-19, I am thinking of someone eight thousand miles away. James worked at the bank where my wife and I kept our accounts. After she died I visited the branch that James managed once or twice a week seeking help managing outstanding loans and paying off a mortgage. More and more recently we have been herded to conducting banking and other transactions online, mostly I suspect for the benefit and efficiency of banks and vendors rather than our own. Now, of course, there’s no option. Virtual interaction is touted as the answer to maintaining our relationships as we live in connected isolation.
Photo Courtesy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac
In the aftermath of my spouse’s death two and a half years ago, I struggled to navigate daily routines such as getting to work and eating. Financial matters were another matter. We had been in debt. I was seriously worried about paying off the loans and selling the house we had lived in that was in disrepair. I had almost no help to guide me.
I visited the branch where James worked on my lunch hour. I usually arrived with documents in hand, stressed after a morning trying to function at a job that did nothing to diminish my anxiety and sense of vulnerability. He sat in a large glass cube as I came through the door. We established a rapport based on our enjoyment of ice hockey and the fact that he had gone to college in the Central Pennsylvania, where I grew up. James was my son’s age, married with two children. Like my son, he preferred to be addressed with his full first name: James, not Jim or Jimmy. We reminisced about canoeing on the Susquehanna River, good fishing spots, a local pizza parlor, and bars that were still open in my home town.
I’m sure James had other work to attend to. He could have sent me to one of the other tellers or told me to go online. Instead, he made endless phone calls on my behalf, patiently researching the status of our accounts and directions on how to resolve the maze of requirements and documents. After the loans were paid and the house sold, I would often stop by his branch to chat for a few minutes. We caught up on his kids and my evolving, uncertain plans. I like to think he enjoyed these visits too. When I left my job and traveled out of the country seeking new opportunities and a new life, I called James periodically for help with banking questions or for help resetting the password on my debit card. He usually asked how I was doing. It was reassuring to hear a voice and have a conversation, however brief, instead of the maze of voicemail options or online options that increasingly replace human interaction.
I made a brief visit last fall to the U.S. When I stopped at the branch, I was told James no longer worked there. No, they could not give me his contact information. No, they could not pass a message to him. The email I had was his work address. Although he has a common last name, I tried several times without success to look him up on the internet, including through his alma mater.
In Central Pennsylvania the forsythia are blooming.The daffodils are open. Trout season started this week. In light of the virus, the Pennsylvania DCNR instructed people fishing to stand six feet apart at their favorite stream. Here I stay two meters apart from people and stay in touch with my family and friends virtually. I hope to return to the U.S. in June or July to travel and see the landscape and people I miss. Who knows? In the meantime I think of James. I hope he found a new job he likes where he is well-treated and has income during this crisis. I hope he and his family are healthy. I hope to be able to meet him again and thank him in person.