Severeid from a Little Brick Room in Ashland

Severeid’s Soapbox 4

By Susanne Severeid, Copyright 2020

Are you, like me, having difficulty coping with the COVID-induced social isolation, now further amplified by the unhealthy air? And the stress, loss,  and confusion in our region due to the devastating fires? Add to those, a Commander-in-Chief who seems deliriously and dangerously out of touch with his science denials and lack of compassion. Could Mad Magazine have created crazier headlines than those we have been reading each day for the past four years?

I believe we have real reasons to be experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Normally, when I feel down, I get active. But, not with COVID and the smoke. Or, I seek the company of friends and loved ones. But, as handy as Zoom is for certain things, I can’t pretend that a Hollywood Squares set is the same as giving someone I’m happy to see abig hug and sitting down across from them in a cozy restaurant. Remember genuine social contact, with smiles we could see? We need–we crave–such contact, especially in times of crisis and conflict. Times like these.

Some things I’m hearing about how to reduce anxiety are: Stay in the present and don’t jump into a future that hasn’t happened yet. Go easy on the news or go on a “news fast”  (tough for Type A’s like me). Stay away from squabbling on social media and keep information to “high quality” news. Exercise (when air quality allows). Accept that this is a difficult time. Find your place of calm inside.

I read an interview of rocker Patti Smith recently. She talked of how challenging these months of isolation have been, and that it helps her to appreciate and focus on the small things, even the most mundane chores around the house like emptying the cat litter box. I think she is right. To pay attention to the small things does seem to help.

On some level, we cannot change where we are right now: working from home,  homeschooling kids, and financial insecurity. There is so much that has changed so quickly. It feels like the walls are pushing in on us with each new “body blow,” like being untethered to whatever our sense of normalcy had been.  And now, the wildfires have decimated entire towns and left thousands homeless. I cannot imagine what the fire survivors, whose homes and possessions have been reduced to ash, are going through. How do we function without the most basic plank on Maslow’s famous pyramid of needs: simple shelter? One person who lost their home in the Oregon fire described the current search for a rental in the Rogue Valley as the “hunger games of housing.” It is the stuff of dystopian novels. I hope the survivors will get the help they need from the federal and state governments and from their insurance to assist them in rebuilding their lives and businesses.

As I write this, I am fortunate to be sitting on the back balcony of the Brickroom. It is a warm and relatively smoke-free morning and I am alone, a stark contrast to before COVID, when it would have been bustling with tourists. I let my mind wander from today’s news, and I can almost pretend that I am far away at a little bistro in Paris: the worn, brick walls and black, wrought-iron tables, old-fashioned lanterns and metal stairwells. Wooden flower boxes offer up the last blooms of late summer in shades of pink and purple, sharing their beauty, oblivious to the tragedy that has befallen Southern Oregon. The unnatural quiet here is almost eerie, but I want to stay and mute the cacophony that’s gone on too long.

Something catches my eye. A hummingbird alights on a flower near me. Flit. Flit. Its green neck shimmers like neon in the sun. I smile at this tiny bit of beauty and decide that it will be my talisman for the day.