I bought a used bicycle for the pandemic.
It’s a ridiculous thing to say, but hear me out.
Why I chose to spend the weekend on craigslist>forsale>bikes before holing up for weeks is a long story. Cycling with friends is a perfect socially distant activity. Love cycling and have biked seriously long trips. Needed a lower top tube.
And—okay—I was secretly worried that gas stations would all close during the crisis and I’d need better transportation than my less-than-functional old bike, shown here.
Got the used/new bike. Great, all set.
More important is what I learned from one of the sellers.
We met at the test parking lot, and the seller was in a hurry. I asked him why. “There’s a run on bikes,” he said. “Our store may close any minute, we’re hurrying to get new/used bikes out to the masses of people buying.”
“Who is buying?” I asked.
“Hospital workers. Healthcare staff. They tell me their employers prohibit taking the train or bus. They need to be able to get to work and home in all traffic conditions, without being exposed to too much virus.”
A pandemic, and a run on bicycles. Who knew?
Years from now, depending on whether/how we survive this, there will be a post-mortem. They will look back on this time and study it for clues to human behavior. They will note our world leaders who answered the call to protect people in an unfathomable crisis, and the world leaders who did not. They will note panic-buying and hoarding, yet will also note people looking after neighbors, people reaching to hand soap to strangers, and exhausted workers patiently bagging groceries for shoppers straining to be civil.
They will note the rise of social distancing.
They will note the desperate pleas for 6 feet between us. Pleas from our public health experts, our leaders, and from random citizens in Asia and Europe. You can carry the virus without symptoms. You can transmit it through the air and on surfaces. Please, please, stay away.
They will note our response, which was mixed.
- Obsessive scrolling, tweeting, asking if it was really true.
- Claims of a hoax.
- Way too much bar-hopping and business as usual.
- Massage therapists debating sanitation measures, closing businesses, declining work, losing jobs, dealing with employers.
They will note that we were afraid.
That our well-founded fears of not making rent, not being able to feed ourselves and our families, fears of financial devastation led us to hang on to our work, which on a good day involved breathing the same air, touching the same surfaces, and working within exactly zero feet of people.
They will note that we kept working and teaching massage therapy because our professional leaders couldn’t tell us for sure whether to keep working or to shut down.
Eventually–they will note–the mayors and governors closed the schools and the salons and chased us out of restaurants, out of gyms, and off of playgrounds. The hospitals told their staff, stay off public transit.
Every day counts.
Our mayors and governors knew that every day, every hour of not sharing airspace, not sharing touch, would make a huge difference in the amount of illness, suffering, and death a couple of weeks later. It would reduce the terrifying burden on hospitals and workers down the line.
For Now, Love Means Staying Apart.
Massage therapy may be essential, but it is not life-or-death, and it is nowhere as urgent as the need to maintain a healthy distance.
Massage is elective. Staying apart is mandated.
Massage therapists have decades of being dismissed behind them, decades of hoping to be part of real health care, wishing to have their skilled touch taken seriously in a high-tech, expensive, pharmacologic, highly effective and utterly broken system of health care. Massage therapists have emerged wounded after all that. We take it personally. It’s hard to be told to stop when you’ve been told you don’t matter.
Note that after 9/11, in the firehouses of traumatized first responders, our work was essential. I believe that plenty of work awaits us on the other side of this crisis. Our skills will always be needed when tending people who are scared, sick, hurting, and wounded in spirit.
For now, our love is badly needed, we just need to express it differently. We need to love people across 6 feet.
This is hard for me to say. Harsh, urgent advice is not my style.
But right now it is time to close.
Don’t wait for the governor or the mayor. Every hour counts. Every hour of distance supports the hospital workers buying bicycles and otherwise ramping up for the tsunami ahead.
I know it is terrifying to think of closing. I swallowed hard to cancel our March and April oncology massage therapy courses. It was hard to say goodbye—perhaps for months—to my clients.
But I had to close.
Since you asked, press for our profession’s leadership to take leadership. Ask them to tell employers and schools and other MTs who need help with the decision—tell them to close up shop.
If you have time on your hands, here are some more options:
- Be part of the solution. Get online and on the phone and tell—don’t ask—our elected representatives, a little over half of whom have decimated the safety net that could have helped prevent this mess, to patch it back together.
Starting with an emergency universal basic income, rent and mortgage relief, a moratorium on evictions, food distribution, emergency housing for those who are facing the unspeakable suffering of homelessness and illness in the same sentence, and health care for every last frightened person.
Once the crisis has passed, insist on better leadership and long-term solutions, including better voting security and representation.
- Look around in your immediate community. Get online with your city, county, neighborhood. Join NextDoor. Food relief and other networks are springing up all over. Cities and states are answering the call. Volunteer to deliver food or walk someone’s dog or safely do an errand for them. Turns out, people are good-hearted, wise, and capable. Connect with them. Ask them for help.
- One on one. Get on the phone and re-connect with someone you’re worried about, someone you haven’t seen or had the time to talk to for a while. Let them talk. Ask them for help, too.
If you feel vulnerable, welcome.
And no matter our resources, we are as vulnerable as the least vulnerable among us. People living unsheltered. People incarcerated. Elders. People with disabilities. People who are immunocompromised. People who were already in the middle of a health crisis, before the big health-crisis-to-end-all-health-crises was upon us. We can advocate for them, too.
Wash your hands.
My hands are chapped from so much washing. They already miss the regular lotion and my short, perfect nails. They miss my soft-skinned palms, and the skin of my clients.
I tell my hands: We’ll get back to work again. I promise.