Quarantined 30 Years Ago

The first time I was quarantined, I was fifteen years old and my six-year-old brother had died.

My brother became very ill overnight; when my mother checked on him in the predawn hours, she realized something was seriously wrong.  My parents raced him to the hospital.

They didn’t make it.

It was only five minutes away, but my brother died in his mother’s arms in the back seat as my dad tore through the streets with the sun coming up in Arlington, Virginia.

The cause of death was meningococcal meningitis.  It’s rare, it’s fast, it’s often deadly, and it’s highly contagious.  When my parents returned from the hospital to tell me, and my two younger siblings that our brother had died, they put us all in the car, to take us back to the hospital for testing.

When we came home, we were quarantined for days.  Can you imagine the horror for my parents?  They’ve just lost one of their children, and now they’re quarantined with the others.  No support, no help, just sitting at home, shell-shocked, staring at each other.

It was one of the worst periods of my entire life.

Why am I sharing this dramatic story with you?

Because even though it happened over 30 years ago, one of the things I still remember vividly were the people who reached out – the friend who left a letter in my mailbox, the ex boyfriend who came over, parked his car across the street, got out and stood there on the sidewalk crying with me, while I sat on our front steps.

None of us contracted it.  Two weeks later, when I went back to school, I quickly realized, there were two kinds of people – the people who were afraid to talk to me, who stood back looking at me with pity, and the people who bravely stepped into awkwardness and sorrow, and made me feel less alone.

A few years ago, a minister friend and I were talking about the classic proverb: I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until a met a man with no feet.  She said, “I’ve always hated that damn story!”  Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a minister.  She went on, “The reason I hate that saying is because it’s always used to minimize someone’s problem or suffering.  If you have no shoes and you meet someone with no feet, you may have perspective on your problem, but you still have a real problem.”

I’ve been quarantined in a horrific situation; I know this could be a lot worse.  You probably know that too.  If you’re safe and comfortable, you don’t have a tragic “no feet” problem, you may have a no shoes problem, or even just an uncomfortable shoes problem.  Wherever you are though, it’s real, and it’s OK to allow yourself to feel however you feel.

This applies to everyone else as well.  People are worried, they’re worried about their jobs, their health, their parents, they’re trying to work while they homeschool their kids; it’s a lot.

The best thing you can do is check in – with your team, your kids, your customers, and check in with yourself.  Before you jump to the next task at hand, ask, How are you really doing?  Then lean into the answer.  We may be isolated, but we shouldn’t have to feel alone.