Love in the Time of COVID-19 (with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

It’s a Thursday night. Or maybe a Wednesday, it’s a little bit hard to tell anymore. I’m watching a show about pirates after a day of filling a day. The phone chirps and my heart constricts because it’s a Facetime request. I don’t face time. I don’t know my angles and my hair always looks bulbous and people inevitably ask, “are you okay?”. But it’s Mack, and we’re supposed to talk tonight, so I fumble with the phone and answer.


“Are you ok?” he immediately and inevitably asks. But this isn’t because my hair is bulbous, it’s because no, not really, none of us are okay. We’re all that character in a movie that slipped off the trail while backpacking on a honeymoon and halfway down the mountain our belt snags a tree, but we see the tendrils of root slowly pulling from the granite and we know that at any moment this final tether will sever and we’ll slide inexorably to a devastating conclusion.


“I’m fine, Mack. I’m okay. How are you?”


“I’m good!” he says, and he smiles his Mack smile, which is somewhere between the sun bursting through cloud cover and being covered in honey. 


Mack is a human, a runner, and a mental health counselor. He’s made time after a day of helping clients remotely, and he’s eating dinner, and while I classified the request as an interview we both know that’s nonsense because friends don’t interview each other and also I clearly have no idea how to interview someone.


“Mack we’re all scared. We’re isolated and we’re anxious. What do you tell your clients? How do we do this?” And he doesn’t miss a beat, even though I gave him no preparation. His answers are immediate and genuine and interspersed with bites of something that looks delicious.


Gratitude, he says. First thing. “Sitting here, able to see people online, eating a dinner delivered to me, this moment of connection… I’m journaling every day, 3 things that I’m grateful for.” And while it is easy to dismiss as a platitude, genuine gratitude for those things we DO have right now can derail the fixation on the things that we have, temporarily, lost. Gratitude can help us identify gain. “One upside is the human connection. We’re 2 humans trying to make it.” Who among us has not seen moments of human connection over the last few days? Called someone we have not spoken with in months? 


“Be intentional”, he reminds us. “Don’t watch the news all day. When you do watch the news, what is your intention? Do you want to find out about federal funding? Get it, turn it off.” This resonates deeply. Things are changing, seemingly deteriorating, at such an astonishing pace it is easy to think we must check, and check, and check again. We chat a bit about connection and disconnection. The importance of connecting with those we love, the importance of disconnecting from the chatter. “All that noise… we’re quiet. Stay quiet.” 


And finally, simplicity. “I have a roof. I have water, I have shelter. To me, that is simplicity. Everything has a purpose. I get up, do what I need. I’m hungry. I’m going to eat oatmeal. I’m thirsty, I’m going to drink water.” As runners, we embrace simplicity. The sport is not complex and rewards those that can adhere to the breathtakingly simple mantra of ‘run, repeat.’ Can we transfer this athletic simplicity to other facets of our lives? Can this transference bring us peace during a time of upheaval?


He ends with a challenge. “It’s easy to get in a state of panic and fear, harder to find balance and joy and connection.” We can choose to reject the specter of dystopia. We can choose to be grateful, be simple, be intentional. It isn’t easy, but we’re runners, we don’t like easy. Let’s choose hard together.


By Kate Reese, GM, Brooklyn Running Co.