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Jessica Handler



I play this game with our cats: I blow soap bubbles with one of those little wands and watch the cats to try to grab the bubble. Sometimes they’re shocked when it pops, other times they lose interest and walk away, leaving me to watch the bubble drift around the room until it fades away.

I do this while my husband and I watch television after dinner. I’m a natural fidgeter — it’s a bone of contention between us that I can’t sit still and do one thing at a time. I insist that I can pay attention to Rachel Maddow or “Midnight Diner” and also blow bubbles for the cat. Maybe I should check my text messages, too. If I do enough things at once, maybe I will conquer fear.

I refill the jar periodically with dish soap so I can keep playing the game. The cats don’t care. Bubbles, no bubbles, doesn’t matter to them.

I’m the one who wants to play with the bubbles, and as I do, I think about bubbles and Coronavirus. I think about uncertainty, and how living carefully in these day seems like struggling to find stability inside a soap bubble. The glistening, bouncing surface represents a safe shield, but its size and tensile strength are ambiguous. There are some reliable constants; wear a mask in public, wash hands for twenty seconds or more, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse, another in my car.

So far, these are good rules to live by, perhaps literally. My bubble contracts when I evaluate options for my classroom in the fall, and expands when realize that I absolutely have to get my damaged eyeglasses repaired. Laughing through my mask with the equally masked receptionist while she takes my temperature with a forehead thermometer makes me briefly buoyant. (“You’re good,” she says, waving me through the door.)

Blowing bubbles for my cats presents me with a metaphor. Inside my wobbly bubble, I’ve had to slow down and make decisions about what I want to grab and what I want to let go. I want the joy of walking in the meadow near our house, or having cocktails on the front porch with my husband while we talk about whatever crosses our minds, or nothing at all. What do I want to let go? Doom-scrolling social media, obsessing over risk factors, fuming at the willful absence of leadership.

In early June, I masked up to help place Fair Fight Georgia’s Voter Assistance Hotline signs at polling places around Atlanta in advance of the primary. I felt my bubble expand that day. I bounced and skittered in the sun, waving to people from afar, sharing a thermos of coffee from home in the car with my husband, pushing signs into grassy medians outside schools and churches. Real life, life from before, glimpsed through a bubble.

When this time of Coronavirus fades away, I will struggle to remember an ephemeral lesson. There’s a shimmering beauty in observing single small moments.

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