In My Own Words: Stocking up by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Editor’s note: This column was written before the school dismissals and quarantines in the area, and the report of one case of coronavirus (or COVID-19) in the county, but it is still relevant to current events.

When I lived on my own and suffered from colitis attacks, I kept my cupboards stocked with enough food so that, if I had an attack that lasted for several days, I wouldn’t have to worry about going grocery shopping. That meant there was food on hand for me to eat the one time a day I might have some appetite.

When my mom or I were grocery shopping for two or more people the past 20 years, our cupboards were always fully stocked. It took some effort after my mom went into a nursing home to remember that I was now buying for only one person, but I finally managed to do so. That meant my cupboards and refrigerator have looked pretty bare lately, except for the frozen health food meals I keep in case I’m too tired, or don’t feel well enough, to cook.

I’ve always had more than enough to eat, but only kept one replacement of staples in the cupboard. However, the past few weeks that’s changed. Why? I’ve been stocking up on extra supplies – notice, please, I said stocking up, not hoarding – in case I need to be quarantined due to exposure to the coronavirus.

I’m not in panic mode yet because, as I write this, there are no known cases of the virus in Broome County. I do expect that change, if only because of people traveling to areas around New York City that have had exposure. My first thought about being in quarantine was that people from my synagogue would buy me food, but what if that’s where the exposure takes place? Even if I didn’t contract the disease, I wouldn’t want to risk exposing friends and coworkers, especially those I know who have respiratory ailments.

So, I now have extra boxes of pasta and crackers in the cupboard. Instead of having one extra jar of peanut butter for when I use up the current one (I always try to be one ahead on things), I have three. (Well, the one in use is more than halfway finished so that’s only really two and a half ahead.) I’ve also bought canned fruit, something I haven’t done since I used to have the colitis attacks. There are more vegetables in the freezer than the cupboard, but that’s not a problem. I’m not worried about having the greatest diet, but about having enough to eat until a quarantine would be lifted.

I am taking this seriously, though. My reading has long made me aware that far more people died of the influenza epidemic that occurred after World War I than in the war itself. According to different reports, 11-20 million people died in the war. The influenza epidemic killed an estimated 50 million. We’ve been lucky that no major disease with such a large death toll has occurred in the last 100 years. We also take for granted that scientists will quickly find a cure or create a vaccine for any illness before it does as much damage. But scientific cures are a matter of determination and luck, so there are no guarantees.

No guarantees: it’s difficult for many of us to admit we don’t have complete control over our lives. If we do everything right and take care of ourselves, then we’ll live to a ripe old age. But, as anyone who has lived long enough knows, life does not always go as planned, something acknowledged in the Yiddish saying, “Man plans and God laughs.” All we can do is hope for the best – and wash our hands. We can keep ourselves as healthy as possible, and offer prayers that our scientists, medical personnel and those in charge of governmental agencies do their best to protect us. 

Panic does not help. Planning can. It also doesn’t hurt to tell the people you care about just how much you love them, in case the worst does occur.