For the past year, I’ve selected a physical location and looked at it over time in a column called On this Spot. Rather than look at a place, “in this spot” will explore the phenomenon of COVID- Zoom.
Last February Zoom was as foreign as an international long-distance call in the '70s. Now it’s as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth. We can thank Covid for that.
Someday we'll look back on our early zoom calls as clumsy and archaic. But for now, Zoom has changed my relationship with distance, time, and ceremony.
Growing up in the funeral business, I’ve always appreciated a good funeral. My family appreciated a heartfelt ceremony, celebrating a life well-lived. Even if I didn’t know a person, the mere act of seeing them laid out in a casket on the way to my parents' living room, would cause tears to well up. My father often joked he wanted to hire me as a professional mourner.
This was especially true when my neighbor and good friend Jim died last May. His death, so unexpected, was painful enough, but Covid, an accelerator of emotions, threw me into a tailspin. New York was two months into a lock-down as we tried to stem the rising tide of the Covid-19 virus. The streets were empty. Starbucks closed.
Jim had passed away unexpectedly in the night. I called close friends in disbelief, sharing raw feelings of loss. How would we comfort his wife Deb and each other? They had been wintering in Florida, which may as well have been Mars. We weren’t even allowed to gather together in our backyards to commiserate.
Within two days Deb called with her “Zoom solution.” Friends from all walks of his life would virtually gather for a Memorial Service. If we wished to send photos, there would be a pre-service slideshow tribute.
Being a traditionalist when it comes to funerals, I had a few reservations. Who would replace the capable behind-the-scenes funeral director? No long snaking lines of mourners? No casket or body to say one last goodbye to?
Fortunately, the meat of a Memorial Service -- stories and photos that warmed my insides, would be front and center.
Memorializing a good friend on Zoom was foreign to me. Nightmarish images ran through my head: rambling stories from people I barely knew; the sound cutting in and out; scrambled pixels; my wrinkled neck appearing front and center for all to see-just to name a few. NYS restrictions forbade even my closest friends to gather and watch together. My husband would be my sole consoler.
On Saturday at 3, we logged onto Zoom. Greetings took the form of Jim’s impish, gracious smile in a looped slideshow set to Chris Botti’s music. Before I focused on each shot, I scanned the mic-muted crowd of virtual faces, imaginarily waving to friends from California to Florida just as I would have in person. So close, yet so distant.
I chuckled at the shot of Jim, my husband, and friend Tom dozing, half open-mouthed on a sun-drenched rock in Lake George. I was delighted in the bike photos depicting Jim in far off destinations of Vietnam and Cambodia. And I teared up at the wedding shot of him and my longtime friend Deb, so happy in the knowledge they had found each other late in life.
Five carefully selected speakers shared the progression of Jim’s 77-year-old life. His brother detailed life in the ‘40s in Saugus, Mass. A colleague shared exploits of teaching Social Studies in Richmond, Virginia. Miles, his 8-year-old grandchild, ended with a poem simply entitled “Jim.” Several screens worth of small rectangle mourners laughed, cried, and shared a collective sadness. None of us would be able to create more “Jim stories.”
The best part was when my friend Deb sat close to the camera as if she were letting us in on a secret and shared their unique 13-year love story. She invited us inside their private world. When she finished, I felt better. After a few brave Zoomers shared one-minute comments, it was over, leaving me warmed with the knowledge that Jim had been part of my life.
We clicked the red “leave the meeting” box and stared at a blank black screen. Speechless and fulfilled.
My goddaughter Bond’s Zoom wedding invitation stated both in French and English “Dress code - Zoom formal, pants optional.” She was marrying a blind Frenchman, boosting the likelihood her unmet fiancé wouldn’t notice my attire.
Precocious from birth, the very Bond-like invitation began, ”Since you know us, you know we are not the type of people who would let a worldwide pandemic prevent us from gathering our friends to celebrate a happy event.”
And so, at 11 a.m. EST, ninety-four friends and family virtually entered the sheer white curtain-draped living room of the couple’s Brooklyn apartment. Since the groom, his brother, and a few attendees were blind, the bride began with a detailed description of both the setting and the bride and groom’s attire-much like the Stage Manager provides the audience essential information in Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
The officiant, aware of the multiple distractions a home offers, asked us to take a deep breath, turn off all phones, and center on the couple on the screen. That simple act focused me on Bond and Charles. No longer I was drawn to the small image of the brides’ parents. I had been assessing their facial expressions knowing how they longed to be standing next to their daughter.
The bride was radiant. No bridesmaids to stand by her side in support, no flower girls to steal the show -- just a 36-year old’s glowing face gazing at her life’s partner.
Vows exchanged; we toasted the happy couple. No crazy drunk uncle at the reception to look forward to. No Macarena. No DJ spinning “Proud Mary.” Just the satisfaction of witnessing love in the age of COVID.
A mere 3360 miles away, I virtually babysit my six-year-old granddaughter and three-year-old grandson. Their stir-crazy mother pronounced, “I have a chance to go to the Shard with my ONE friend. So, Gigi, you’re in charge. Their father has an important conference call in the next room.”
Just an hour to keep them amused, reasonably quiet, and contained in 6-year-old Bara’s room. A melee in the making.
Move over Savannah Guthrie. Bara was born to address a screen. Put her in front of a camera and she can wax for hours. In sharp contrast, three-year-old Davey behaves like an errant missile. His sole motivator is food. When we’re physically together, a handful of blueberries solves any crisis that arises. I realize virtual food is my only weapon.
And so begins my parody of Davey’s favorite song, “We’re going on a Bear Hunt.” Instead, we hunt in my garden. Zucchini close-ups capture Davey’s rapt attention. Peppers, eggplant, kale, and tomatoes all become phrases of our song. His face strains close to the camera, willing his body to reach through the screen and pick the vegetables off the vine.
Only 50 minutes left!
We play school. I am the student and they bark out orders as Mrs. Pink and Mrs. Black.
Mrs. Pink opens with her favorite game, Two Truths and a Lie.
Davey’s clues revolve around food:
1. Daddy puts cereal on the table on Sunday Fundays.
2. Daddy makes sausages.
3. I don’t like Gigi.
Hoping I am still in his favor, I correctly guess number three. He claps with delight.
I am quizzed on phonic flashcards; tested on arithmetic and am asked to read lots of books aloud. Correct responses earn “dojos,” their reward system. Music class brings British renditions of familiar classics -- “Eensy Weensy Spider” replaces my “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Snack in the garden is dangled in front of me.
An intimate insight into their day-to-day school life is revealed through our role play.
I learn the mundane details of their day-to-day life. Silence is not billed at $1 a minute.
Zoom has become my stabilizer in an out-of-control world.
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