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Life in the Time of Corona

Meditations on the Coronavirus

Carolyn Tokson

Carolyn Joyce Tokson is a retired learning facilitator who has had poems published in an anthology on the Holocaust, Rural Heritage magazine, The Hartford Courant, children’s reading texts, and various small publications. She is also an editor/writer for the Jazz Pensacola newsletter. She is a chef extraordinaire.

    I know those streets in New York where the hospitals are, where the refrigerated trailers stand. I know right where the synagogue is where the first outbreak in New Rochelle was. The same refrigerated trailers are a few blocks away from my daughter’s apartment in Philly. My granddaughter’s friend Erin, a nurse in Denver, wears masks that have been used by other nurses and hung up as they leave their shifts. I’ve already lost a friend here in Pensacola to the virus, one in Ohio, one in NY. I know others who have lost mothers, aunts. This virus is very real to me. I have major allergies, asthma and lungs that have seen one too many bouts with bronchitis and pneumonia. From the first day I read about the new coronavirus in the NY Times, I knew it would come for us.

    I’ve studied enough existentialism and Zen to hold the idea of life and death closely. I washed the bodies of my dead husband and my dead mother. I know what it’s like for death to sit in a chair and wait quietly while we say our goodbyes. And I know how to survive in its wake. I don’t want it to come for me. Not yet. So, right away I made a plan.

    My partner and I will be on “stay-at-home” for the duration. We stocked up on food and necessities early, but they do run out, don’t they? We go to the grocery on the day for seniors, to the pharmacy and out for walks. I do zazen (meditation), I sew masks, and I cook. That’s my plan to keep my spirits up and my life on track.

    I already had disposable masks, but they are like currency now. The nuns at the Buddhist temple here in Pensacola know me and they sent me a pattern. I sew masks and give them away. When I couldn’t keep up with the need, the nuns met me at the gate and gave me a bag of masks.  When I gave those away, they gave me more. I have different patterns now; I can make various sizes. For me, it’s important to make the masks.

    In the zendos I’ve attended in New York, Massachusetts, California and Hawaii, we always chant the Four Vows for All. The first is “Beings are numberless, I vow to save them.” My teacher’s translation is “to carry them over.” It is what we do each time we have a service. It’s a vow that I take seriously so I make masks. I’m not a nurse or a doctor. It’s the least I can do.

    And I cook. That task I love. It is like a drug to me. The reading of the recipe, the chopping, the measuring, the sautéing, the stirring. It’s an act of meditation, a sweet suspension of reality. We eat our main meal in the middle of the day with candlelight, the silver and the good dishes, and sometimes wine. We ignore the sewing machine at the far end of the dining room table. We have a small house; we have to set up project areas.

    I have made many new recipes and I’ve catalogued them in the small book where I usually write the meals we have prepared for guests or for parties. I’ve made almost all the recipes in the vegetable section of Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris. Paris to me is the center of the world; I know the Left Bank like a family member. So I thrill to her recipes. Her vegetable tian with zucchini, tomatoes, onions and potatoes was superb. The cauliflower gratin I paired with her sautéed mushrooms, the leftovers with her French green beans which have onions and red peppers added in. From an old French cookbook, I tried Veau Marengo which was as delicious as any meal from a top-notch restaurant. Another day I made salade au riz au saucisson, a lovely cold meal. My French tomato salad is a staple and I’m making all my own dressings. Tonight we had the Croque Monsieur. For Italian, I grab either Julia della Croce’s or Lydia Bastianich’s cookbooks and head to the pasta section. I love watching the anchovies dissolve into the olive oil for a sauce with broccoli. Life goes on. We are surviving and sometimes thriving in this strange new world. I savor the quiet and the slowness. We miss my friends. But we are alive!

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