Dancing into Quarantine by Pamela Bennett

Inside the gas station store, I do a strange dance with the woman across the aisle. We see each other and duck quickly to the next aisle, hoping to circle back, only to meet each other again, swerve quickly away and dart to the next aisle.

Her eyes are laughing when we come nearly face to face again, both stubbornly hoping to own the next space. I smile behind my mask and maybe she does too, but soon she murmurs “excuse me,” and hurries out the front door.

I give up too after I run into another masked bandit, thinking maybe the snack I thought I needed for the drive home is not worth the risk. Inside my car, I rip off my mask, rub my hands vigorously with hand sanitizer and spray a chemical cloud over the car door, the steering wheel and my purse.

I resolve to drive the last 300 miles home without stopping.




Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave us the term “suspension of disbelief” in 1817. He said writers skilled in describing the human condition and a “semblance of truth” could help a reader sink into a story and believe even the most implausible tale.

What happens when the human condition is a global pandemic and we are suddenly inside a science fiction novel?

My novel-in-progress is far from science fiction but is suddenly irrelevant and implausible because characters actually meet, talk , touch and stand closer than six feet away.




Who knew that secretly, unbelievably, I was not an introvert after all, only someone who chose solitude—sometimes—while knowing I had someplace to go if I wanted to go there.

Now there is no place to go.

After driving 840 miles from the Florida panhandle to central Ohio in one day, I am home in quarantine for 14 days, obeying a state directive for all returning residents and visitors.

The writer Jeanne Marie Laskas said:

“Isolation is aloneness that feels forced upon you, like a punishment. Solitude is aloneness you choose and embrace. I think great things can come out of solitude, out of going to a place where all is quiet except for the beating of your heart.”

I am still waiting to embrace this “solitude.”


Two months ago, I left for a writing retreat on Hilton Head that was everything I wanted it to be, long walks on the beach, warm sunshine, salt spray, rushing waves and a deep immersion in words and literature.

The world—literally, the world—went to hell while I was gone.

Faced with quarantine, I imagined a solid 14 days of sleeping in, reading, writing, playing the piano, weaving on my loom, cleaning my house and long bubble baths.

The sleeping and long bubble baths happened, but so did hours and hours and hours of Netflix and Hulu. I’ve caught up on the television shows I’ve missed, started new ones and possibly snacked my way into a larger jeans size.

My fingers sweep through Facebook and I look at familiar but faraway faces, tearing up as I ache to hold my grandchildren.

Global pandemic.

Flatten the curve.

Social distance.



Facts not fear.

New phrases bombard news reports and masked faces fill my newsfeed. I read about frontline heroes, doctors, nurses, essential workers keeping grocery stores and other businesses open and feel suddenly ashamed of my complaints from the couch.

The weight of fear is hard to shake though, as “normal” fades away like smoke. Hugs, laughter, gatherings, handshakes—smiles on unadorned faces—all grow smaller and smaller in a rearview mirror, distant memories like my days on the beach.

Resilience or resistance?

Psychologists tell us that adversity breeds resilience.

Instead, resistance rears like a water moccasin at the edge of a pond, scales glistening in the sun.

Something out there—too many things—can kill you.

If you manage to survive, you are forced to adapt to a different world, of distance, isolation and masks.

Words have been solace and solution in my life since childhood, so I tend to seek out poetry when I’m afraid or depressed.

Mary Oliver wrote:


I Worried


I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not, how shall

I correct it?


Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?


Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,



Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?


Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.


Maya Angelou wrote Caged Bird, contrasting the experience of a free bird and a caged bird. The caged bird finds a voice, despite its captivity.


But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.


As writers, creators, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and citizens, the only way to build resilience during these uncertain times might be through another word—acceptance.

We are temporary captives of a rapidly changing world, but we are not alone.

People are helping people all over the world, and there must be a time when we can smile at strangers again.

Social media brought us videos of Italian musicians and soloists serenading each other from their balconies during the worst of the pandemic in Italy.

May our own “fearful trills” sing of better days to come.


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