By Megan Greenwood
Or download the audio file here: Linguini to Spare
I am really good in a crisis. Seriously. Really good. I’m actually kind of famous for it. Cancer diagnosis? I’m your gal. Divorce? I’ve got you. Lost your job? I’m here to help. Years ago, my mom and I were watching my younger brother play in a soccer game. My brother broke his arm and unleashed a loud, non-stop torrent of f-bombs that completely froze my mom. So, being the crisis expert I am, I grabbed my mom’s keys, got in our Aerostar minivan, drove it onto the field, grabbed that day’s Tribune (lying unopened in the van), used it and my hoodie to create a brace and sling, dragged him and my still-shell-shocked mom into the van, and drove to the emergency room. I was seventeen.
I’ve always been proud of being good in a crisis. I’ve worn it like a badge of honor. But in January of 2020, I learned that my superpower has its kryptonite. And that kryptonite is a pandemic.
In January of 2020, I started hearing about this troublesome thing in Wuhan, China. I listened to NPR on my way home from work and heard unnerving tidbits about viruses and quarantines. About food markets and cruise ships. About coughs and ventilators. About death. And I started to unravel. About mid-February I stopped being able to sleep. And then eat. I would buy extra groceries every time I shopped and look around wondering why everyone wasn’t purchasing seventeen bags of linguini. I would mention my concerns to friends, who would talk to me sweetly as if I was losing my mind. And I felt like I was. In early March, when my husband, Wade, came back from a road trip to Arizona, I sheepishly showed him our storage room, full of bags of supplies and boxes of food that I’d been buying for weeks. Wade was very kind, but I still felt crazy. I don’t know how to describe it, but I could feel something. A burden coming.
I’ve lived a life of very little burden. I’ve been loved in big ways. I’ve always had what I needed. I have a great marriage. I have remarkable kids. For eighteen years, we’ve lived in a great little old house with a mortgage we can afford. I love my job. I’m a genuinely happy person. Sure, hard things have happened. We’ve lost people we love. We’ve fought cancer with our parents and close friends. We’ve had financial ups and downs. But through those things, I’ve always been optimistic. I’ve been very lucky and very privileged. But during the first few months of 2020, I stopped being able to find my optimism. It just left. Crisis-Meg vanished. I became completely overwhelmed with the gut feeling that my life—but, more importantly, the life of my three teenage daughters—was going to change drastically. And not for the better. I slept worse and worse, and I began having panic attacks every night. So, I met with my doctor on March 10th and started taking Prozac March 11th. On March 13th, the world stopped.
That day, I was in a Logan, Utah, emergency room with our oldest. An abscessed tonsil had stopped her from being able to breathe. I sat terrified as I watched the ER staff gear up in hazmat suits, preparing for their first possible COVID-19 patient. Wade was home with our other two girls, one of whom had a fever and a wicked cough. The pediatrician’s office told us to assume it was the virus and quarantine accordingly—though no one could really tell us what quarantining meant. My brother-in-law—a firefighter in Park City—was exposed while transporting a sick patient, and soon he, his wife, and their one-year-old became some of the first positive cases we knew of. And to top it all off, Wade had to take a huge pivot at work. Being a physical therapist at an outpatient clinic, some of his hours were furloughed. And many of the hours he did work were spent in the belly of the beast—the hospital’s COVID-19 unit. He would send us pictures of himself in his protective gear and the quickly-patched-together air filtration systems. I couldn’t look at any of them.
All of this was just in the first two weeks.
I spent most of those first days sitting on my living room couch staring out the front window. I kept waiting for crisis-Meg to kick in, but she wasn’t showing up. So, I sat. A lot. I read a bit, cooked a bit, and feverishly sanitized the house every morning. But mostly I just sat. And then I decided it was probably a good idea to sit outside instead. Even though we have a great backyard with a great deck, for some reason, every day at noon, we’d eat our lunch on our teeny tiny front porch. It became our daily routine, a way to connect with the outside world. We chatted with people walking by, most of whom we’d never seen before. We soaked up the sun. We worked in the yard. And slowly I started coming out of my fog. Neighbors we’d known for years would stop to chat. Since I knew that a trip to the grocery store was much less perilous for me than for some of our older neighbors, I’d always offer a shopping trip—or linguini. After a few weeks, people started referring to us as the front-porch family, and we were happy to be that.
One day, as I pulled weeds out of my parking strip, I saw my across-the-street neighbor getting his mail. We made eye contact, so I asked how they were doing. He said fine. I asked if they needed anything or if I could make a trip to the store for them. He told me they were having groceries delivered, so they were OK.
I’m a pretty social person. I generally like people, and I’m easy to get along with. We host a lot of get togethers at our little home. We go out with friends a lot. But I realized that this was the first conversation I’d ever had with my across-the-street neighbor. In seventeen years. I only knew his last name—and I kind of thought his wife’s name was Gayle. But I didn’t know the name of a man I’d seen thousands of times.
A few days later, I was outside again, and I heard Norm call out. He slowly, hesitantly, crossed the street and asked me if one of our girls would mind helping him with a project. Norm is an editor, and he was working on a young adult fiction novel. He felt like the author wasn’t writing with a vernacular that teenagers would actually use and wondered if one of our girls would be willing to read things over. So, he hired our youngest to be his assistant editor, and my friendship with Norm began.
We exchanged numbers and began texting, first about the editing, and then about more. We texted almost daily. Checking in on each other. Sharing articles. Bitching and moaning about politics. Exchanging recipes. When I knew they’d had a particularly bad night, I left a pie on their porch. One day, Norm and Gayle left flowers for me with a beautiful handmade card. When my grandma passed away from COVID-19 after a breakout in her assisted living facility, Norm and Gayle reached out with love and kindness.
In May of 2020, we were finally able to schedule our oldest for surgery to remove her abscessed tonsils. Because of his constant contact with the coronavirus, we decided it would be best to have Wade move out during the weeks leading up to her surgery. Norm checked in daily to make sure I was doing OK. One day, a rainstorm tore through our neighborhood and split a tree in their front yard. I made some calls to members of our ward with chainsaws and the tree was down in an hour. Norm said I was the best elder’s quorum president he’d ever seen. When our neighborhood became a surprising Biden/Harris haven during the election, we shared yard signs with Norm. When those signs were all stolen, we shared our replacements. We celebrated the election together. We celebrated the vaccine together. He worried about our youngest, who had to wait longer for access to the vaccine, and he was the first to let me know when she was eligible. Recently, when another storm hit our neighborhood while we were out of town, Norm texted to let me know he had his eye on our house.
I’ve always been jealous of people who are close with their neighbors. It sounds so charming: borrowing eggs, sharing gardening tips, evening talks in the street. I’d never had a neighbor like that. I grew up on a very quiet street with no other kids and, even though we love our neighborhood now, our part of the neighborhood has always had a keep-quiet-and-keep-to-yourself kind of vibe, which I’ve been fine with. So, this close neighbor relationship is new for me. And I’m surprised at how . . . sacred it feels. It’s an unspoken pact I’ve made with another human. A promise that you’ll be there, but not too much. That you’ll watch, but not too much. That you’ll support, but not too much. It feels safe. The ridiculous part about all of this is that Norm has been there for all eighteen years we’ve lived in our house, and I’ve missed out on him.
I didn’t know Norm because he’s not LDS and I don’t see him at church. In other words, I didn’t know him because I’m lazy and spoiled. For years I had let my built-in ward community be enough. But it wasn’t enough when a crisis hit. I needed Norm. I needed the security of knowing that someone could see me experiencing the pandemic. It felt validating. And somehow it has made me feel more sane.
I’ve heard people over the last year and a half talk about how much they miss the temple. How they miss worshipping in a sacred place where they feel close to God. The temple hasn’t ever been my jam, as we say in our house, and I haven’t attended for years, so there wasn’t really anything for me to miss. The temple doesn’t speak to me for a lot of reasons, but over the past year I realized that one of the biggest reasons is that my temple is around me all the time. Every time I fall asleep listening to teenagers laughing, I’m in my temple. Every time I clean my old, worn-out wood floors, I’m in my temple. And now, every time I look across the street and see Norm’s quiet, humble little home, I’m in my temple.
I know that is privilege. I work with kids in a middle school counseling center, and it’s impossible for me to miss how lucky I am. I know that many of these kids feel trapped and victimized in their homes. I spend my time trying to help them feel like school is their sacred space, where they are cared for, protected, and loved.
So, I’ve decided to see my friendship with Norm as a reminder that with my privilege comes a responsibility to be a better human. To make sure that, as much as I can, I help the people around me feel like the spaces we occupy together are sacred. That the things we share matter. I feel like my friendship with Norm has expanded the boundaries of my temple, and now it’s on me to expand them even further. It’s ridiculous that it took a pandemic for me to figure that out. But here we are.
So, I’ve got my little home. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my friendship with Norm. I’ve got my medication. I’ve got a whole lot of spare linguini. And I’m willing to share.