Did my headline make you stop and think in this age of coronavirus? I know. It felt weird to write. Because really, who in their right mind would share a dessert right now? Particularly with a stranger? But just a few months ago, I did without thinking twice about it. My, how times change.
I’ve just come back from another quarantine birthday gathering. And by gathering I mean a gaggle of women who sit in their individual cars at an appointed time, drive at a speed and in a formation that is usually reserved for funeral processions, and then honk at the birthday girl. Or, honk in the general direction of her house, that is, until she comes outside.
This is my third in a month’s time. I’m becoming rather good at them if I do say so myself.
The crafty types make “Happy Birthday” signs. I’m not very handy and my letters look all boggledy, so instead I usually drop a small gift bag on the lawn while yelling, “I JUST WASHED MY HANDS! REALLY!” Then the birthday girl waits until I’m back in my car before she retrieves it.
We really should film this whole ritual, I think, so that anthropologists hundreds of years from now can study the odd habits of middle-aged women’s celebrations of one another while in quarantine. We’ve replaced margaritas, martinis and manhattans with processions, posters and peripatetics.
I must admit, it touched me when my own friends did this for me recently to celebrate my birthday. Seeing their sweet faces smiling and shouting to me from their cars reminded me in this socially isolated time that I’m loved. Sometimes that’s all any of us needs.
These distanced celebrations are in stark contrast to a dinner I shared with a friend some months ago, in which we invited a total stranger to join us for dessert. That now seems such a foreign concept. First, a packed restaurant. Second, a shared dessert. And the icing on the cake—a table at which someone outside your immediate social circle sits close enough to share germs.
My friend and I were out for our usual biweekly get-together. Now, if you know anything about me from reading this blog, you know that I follow my gut. And as Beth and I chatted away in the corner of a restaurant filled to capacity, I saw a woman slightly older than us eating alone a few tables away. She stood out because this is a restaurant for large groups, couples, girls’ night out—but not so much solo diners on a weekend.
She didn’t look unhappy but something told me she’d had a rough week. So, on my way to the ladies’ room, I asked her if she’d like to join us for dessert. I told her we were admiring her relaxed Friday evening style—glass of wine, awesome meal, a little “me time.” But that if she’d like a little company, we were about to share something very large and very chocolate.
Surprisingly, she headed on over to our table a few minutes later. And I’m so glad she did.
Katie was a delightful addition to the table. She ran grad school programs at a local college and was also authoring a book on racial equity in the classroom. Divorced and having recently moved, she said she was so thankful for the invitation to join us because it had been a rough week at work. We chatted about writing, higher education, being divorced women of a certain age and so much more. Katie was the choreographer for a local theater production, also, and had known one of my neighbors for nearly two decades. Talk about a small world.
During the coronavirus quarantine, I’ve channeled my inner introvert. I’m reading books, catching up on shows, cleaning things I haven’t before (chandelier crystals are sparkling as never before). But I, like many of you, do miss human connection. Perhaps even more so because I was raised in the art of the chat by my father.
I’m continuing to do my part with social distancing and I’m looking forward to the day when we can again comingle without worry of shedding a virus. In the meantime, I may never perfect the art of the “Happy Birthday” sign but I sure do a mean gal-pal birthday drive-by.
However, my inner extrovert is missing the promise of surprising new connections. When this pandemic ends, I will appreciate with newfound enthusiasm the wonderful possibilities for “the new” that my fellow human beings provide.
We’re really all more alike than we are different. And in those differences, we can learn so much from each other. I hope when we can gather safely again that you don’t just gather with your best loved, but that you also reach out to those outside of your immediate circle.
I’ve yet to regret doing so. As we parted ways, Katie said, “Thank you so much for inviting me to your table. You turned around what was a totally mediocre ending to a tough week. I am going home happy.”
Oh, that would have made my dad smile. He was all about that. And I guess now, so am I.