In My Own Words: Working from home by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Although newspapers are considered a vital industry, Reporter staff have been working from home as much as possible. That makes work more difficult since all communication is done on the computer, but we decided to do this because we want to follow government guidelines as best we can. We’re also worried about each other’s health. I’m especially concerned about my staff member who has asthma, although she’s quick to remind me that I’m over 60, part of the age group for whom the virus is considered more dangerous. In the meantime, we believe it provides an important service to the community.

Thinking about the virus forces me to face some hard truths: I could die. The people I love – friends and relatives – could die. Yet, as a cousin who has been living with cancer for almost two decades has reminded me, we are all dying. It’s just the virus gives us one specific thing to fear. However, I’m not letting myself dwell on this or let it paralyze me because what counts now is making certain that we live and enjoy each day to the best of our ability.
For me, it helps to be working and the paper has kept me and my staff busy. The Reporter feels more vital to the community than ever before. That’s not just because of the lists of postponed and canceled activities (which are not fun to print), but for the messages of hope from Federation Executive Director Shelley Hubal, notices of local Jewish activities and meetings that are being held online, and the articles listing Jewish options for education and recreation while self distancing. Jewish life continues even if we aren’t able to gather in the same room. 

I find myself working longer hours because it’s become harder to separate my work and home life, but I’m not complaining. I’m grateful to have a job, especially since my part-time chaplaincy work has been put on hold until this is over. And, working from home means that I don’t have to set my alarm as early since the commute to my home office takes far less time than my commute to The Reporter office.

What am I doing with my free time? No one will be surprised to hear that I’m reading because that’s a vital activity, virus or no virus. I try to get outside for a walk everyday if I can. If not, then I walk around the inside of the house. My TV has been on a bit more than normal: I’ve been keeping up with the two shows I regularly watch – the current baking competition on Monday nights on the Food Network and “The Rookie” – but have seen a few episodes of other shows I like, but don’t usually watch because I don’t have enough time. 

My big pleasure, though, has been listening to more music in the evening or on weekends. It helps when I’m walking inside the house because the beat keeps me moving. (Yes, I’m listening to rock again. That used to be too difficult, but the sound is getting better.) If I know the song already, then I can catch some of the words. Sometimes, a word or two jumps out even if I don’t remember it. (My brain has forgotten a lot of music I listened to in the 1990s so those CDs feel new.)

Things that aren’t as easy? I haven’t been able to see my mother, who is in a nursing home, for weeks. Fortunately, I arranged for her to have a phone and am able to talk to her almost everyday. That’s not true for many folks and it must be so difficult for them not to be in contact with their loved ones. My mom doesn’t really understand what’s going on, which is good in that she’s not worried about me and my brother and sister-in-law, but hard when she asks when she’s going to see me or requests that I bring her a candy bar. I try to explain a bit about the virus, but she usually doesn’t remember what I said the next time I talk to her. The staff at the home have been wonderful: sometimes my mom forgets to turn off the phone or put it in the charger. When I can’t reach her, I just call the nurses’ desk and they go into her room and take care of the problem. There is no way to thank them enough for this small, kind deed.

Will our daily lives ever return to normal? The quarantines and self distancing will stop someday. Will things ever feel normal again? For some, this period of time will disappear as if it never happened; others may be scarred for life. Will we all be here at the end? That’s the scary question no one can answer, but we should remember one thing: as a community, we will stand together to help those in need – financially or emotionally. It also doesn’t hurt to remember to say to the folks you care about what I say to my mom just before we hang up the phone: “I love you.”