22 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Eight

Mary Louise McDonald,
September 11, 1929 ~ April 15, 2020
So we are into the eighth week of whatever this is - lockdown is incorrect if you compare it to what other countries are doing. Quarantine is incorrect unless you are sick and forced to isolate to prevent infecting others. Shelter in place doesn't even seem right because to me, that response is more apt for an ACTIVE threat like a tornado or a shooter. We are staying at home and working from home, but it will not necessarily injure us if we walk outside our doors. We are staying at home because we care about others in our neighborhoods, our towns, cities, states - our country.

This kind of selflessness does not come easily to a great number of Americans. We are taught from birth to depend on ourselves. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Sharing is good, but saving is better. There isn't an adage about helping your neighbor pull up his bootstraps. The American Way often feels like The Everyman For Themselves Way. So this self-isolation is hard on us. We are a people who value hard work but also are interested in instant gratification. After six weeks of mixed messages from all levels of government, a distrust of the media that comes from the highest levels, and a frankly terrifying resistance to trusting proven science in favor of unproven talking points, we the people began to become restless. There were armed protests at statehouses and armed, inflammatory discourse on social media. We had overshot the mark for caution and were treading on civil liberties.

Everyone seemed quick to forget that, thanks to those very overblown measures, they were still alive to make their irrational and selfish arguments. Anyway.

Why have I attached a picture of my aunt, my mother's older sister who died last month, to this rant about the overbearing vocal majority intent on disbelief until they actually are infected? That sweet woman, Mary Louise McDonald, died after an intraparenchymal hemorrhage. She was 90 years old. Her birthday was Sept. 11, 1929 - and she was a typical McDonald, just like my mother and all of her siblings. We joked that Mom would apologize for breathing too much air if someone else was in the room - and she clearly came by that honestly because Aunt Mary was the same way.

I hope that this is where I learned how to survive the isolation, the restlessness, the loneliness that this Exile has brought. Their example taught me to value the lives and health of others as highly - and sometimes more highly - than my own. Their example taught me that there are things we do that we do because it is the right thing to do. Their example taught me that doing for others shows your love for them.

Aunt Mary was encouraging. She was loving and gentle and quiet - to us. My uncles said that she was bossy and could be stubborn and sassy. I witnessed the passive-aggressive way that she and my mother would argue over kitchen duties at Thanksgiving and the way she always knew the exact gift to give you at the exact time you needed it. She and Hubs bonded over her fudge which was a staple at family gatherings. The last time I spoke to her on the phone was so quiet, only the sound of the ventilator on the other end in response to my weepy promises to look after Hubs and my sister and to learn to make her fudge for all of us.

So when we were under a mandatory stay at home order in South Carolina and we lost Aunt Mary, and the funeral home and my sister and brother in law prepared for a quiet burial, socially distanced and only attended by family - I thought about what she would have done for me, and Hubs and I went to Georgia. We drove by and saw the house in Pendergrass where my Aunt Mary lived with my grandfather until his death, and I thought about her life and how much she sacrificed because it was the right thing to do - and I hope that she forgave me my hesitation and that she was proud of who her niece has become.

And I hope that I can learn to make that fudge - goodness knows I have the time now.

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