Getting dressed, I heard a crash from downstairs, both familiar and jarring. Something had broken. My wife gasped, “Oh no!” and then, unexpectedly, I heard tears. Still half-dressed, I ran downstairs to find her standing over her favorite coffee mug, the white one with her initial emblazoned on one side, shattered on the kitchen floor. Sadness spread over her face like the coffee spreading across the tiles. I pulled her into a hug and then felt something release inside her. Something she probably didn’t realize was waiting there, just beneath the surface.
She started crying in earnest against my shoulder, so I pulled her closer. The tears fell hard then and I peeked back at the mug lying in jagged pieces in a puddle of cold coffee. It’s true, it was her favorite mug. I have a matching mug with my own initial which we both use every day. A gift she’d gotten for us because she’d grown tired of my mixing up our morning cups.
As she cried into my shoulder, it became clear that she wasn’t crying for her lost mug. Her reaction was too wounded and significant. Almost pleading. Like she’d just learned an old friend had passed away. She was crying, I thought, for the loss of comfort. The loss of routine and the known. And then I realized that that personal loss wasn’t just hers, it was all of ours. The simple breaking of ceramic on ceramic was the sound of all of us losing something personal and meaningful.
As we struggle to accept our new lives of waving eagerly and grinning expectantly at our friends and family from the confines of our laptop screens, we’re existing in a temporary unknown. We don’t know how temporary or how unknown, and it’s unsettling. We’re restricted to sharing virtual cocktails and telling funny stories with a grid of videos in front of us. We play board games and blow kisses to people we haven’t touched in weeks. We worry over sick friends and strangers alike, and we encourage each other to keep faith and hope. We don’t know how long it will be until we can hug again. How long before we can shake hands, kiss cheeks, or share a meal with friends. So we joke about the days blurring together and we show off that drab sweater we’ve worn for a week straight now. We joke about our hair getting longer and grayer and chuckle when adorable toddlers bomb our work meetings. Beneath that, though, live our collective pangs for anything that we recognize as normal.
The reactions to this have been heartbreaking but also uplifting. Crippling but also inspiring. People are singing and dancing with neighbors. Grandparents are confined to showing their love through a window. Every day, we marvel at the medical professionals who are working selflessly and heroically on the front lines to save lives and care for friends and strangers. Through it all, we smile bravely at our children because we believe in them. As they finger paint for the umpteenth time or read Gatsby in their pajamas, they smile back because they believe in us too.
My wife dropped her beloved coffee mug and the shatter of it echoed through us all. Ten minutes later though, she wiped a final tear and got the broom out. She cleaned up the mess, swept up the broken pieces, and threw everything away. She gave me a smile and an apologetic shrug, and then went to the cupboard to retrieve a new mug. She pressed on to her next Zoom call. To her next walk around the block wearing a homemade mask. Watching her clean up and perk up, I thought maybe we should all break our favorite mugs. Just to remind us that we’ll get through it.