Finding joy


Courtesy of Camille Kantor

Camille Kantor enjoys spending time with her children during these long, coronavirus days.

Camille Kantor, Special to the Oak Leaf

I went to a store today. For the first time in a week, I went to a store and low and behold I ran into a friend. This wasn’t even a good friend of mine and yet we instantly recognized each other from the eyes up. I was struck by that and distracted by the heat and breath that circulated inside my N95 mask as I spoke. We attempted normalcy and exchanged pleasantries, “Hey! How are you all holding up? How big is the baby now?” and “ Yes, I know time goes by so fast with two.”

I would have liked to photograph that moment. Two people standing about six feet apart, but probably more like 4, gesturing with our hands more than normal because our facial expressions are no use. Except our eyes. It’s the eyes I would want to zoom in on. Squinting to smile, extra wide to show interest, or eyebrows pinched in concern accented by a slight head tilt to empathize. And we are all concerned right now, aren’t we? Concerned for each other and people we don’t know who are higher risk and concerned for the future of our own lives.

I am concerned for the preservation of joy. I don’t mean that right now joy doesn’t exist. I mean that I find it excessive; I find it every day and needle-point concentrate on it, video tape it and document it; share it with my friends. I feel stuck in an allegory for immortality where everything that brings joy normally is a little less sweet. Of course, there is stress and there are reminders all around us of our mortality, but there is something about being home, unable to work and live our normal lives, that takes the joy out of the little passions and hobbies we used to crave. I used to have to carve out special time to take a long bath and read, now since my husband is out of work and home I can do that in abundance. I should feel lucky! Instead I grieve at not coveting that time. Is joy a construct built from our desire to do something but not being able to? And once we are able it becomes less desirable?

I returned to my car shrouded in the ambivalence. I felt glad to see a friendly face, even if just half of it, but it was a sore reminder that human interaction outside of my husband and children will be weighted with the realities of new societal mores for the foreseeable future. I was relieved to pull off the mask and breath unfettered. The next step was to squirt a little bit of clear sanitizer in my palm and rub it all over my hands, steering wheel, phone, wallet and keys. I was most relieved that I could now scratch the corner of my right nostril, although then I had to sanitize my hands again.

A short drive across town and I was home. The tendrils of my cocoon peeled back and welcomed me inside. Here I am the master of my domain and am in control, here we are unchanged, except that we are always here. I saw our gardening projects waiting for me to delve back into and once I stepped out of the car I heard my boys laughing or crying, I don’t remember which and often it’s both, inside the house. The weather was warm and breezy, the sunshine makes all the difference. I took a moment to breath deeply and remember that someday I will be able to visit with friends without masks on or by accidentally meeting at the store.