When I used to have time to leisurely thumb through a woman’s magazine – Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, for example – I often read articles about how it was easy to “update” the look of a room for less than $100. We could buy new throw pillows! We could get a small area rug! We could find wallpaper samples to put in drugstore frames to hang on the wall! We could paint! Anyone can paint! Paint, after all, is cheap!

These were the things I remembered reading when I was frantically wondering how to complete our yet unfinished closet. Our clothing was still all over the living room. I had located two pairs of jeans (one nice and one grubby and baggy), one pair of yoga pants, several casual tops, one pair of fuzzy pajamas, and most of my shoes. For two weeks, I’ve been rotating these clothing items according to the weather, just throwing something on to cover me for the day. 

And we were no closer to finishing the project than we had been last Thursday when Max woke up with his inopportune fever. It seems that some people, including our artisan construction wizard and the painter, are squeamish about entering a home where one of the residents is in the basement waiting for COVID-19 test results – and who can blame them? Certainly not me. And certainly not the one in the basement – who was, by the way, cleared by his test results on Monday.

I texted Neil, who built the tiny house, and told him Max didn’t have COVID-19. I asked what was next. He told me the new walls needed to be primed before he came back in a few days. Well, our painter wasn’t coming, and so that left – me. Of course, I could prime the walls! We had paintbrushes and rollers and paint pans! After all, anyone can paint!

Twenty-four hours later, the walls were sufficiently primed, and I had awakened to a stiff back and an aching left hip (a remnant from a bicycle accident two years previous when I ran into a tree – but that’s another story). I re-evaluated. Maybe anyone else could paint, but certainly not me. I was too short, and my eyes are bad. I had trouble distinguishing the off-white new walls from the white primer, so every 10 minutes or so, I had to stop and stand back to see where I had primed and where I had not. 

I had climbed up and down the ladder innumerable times because the long-handled roller was awkward for my height and arm’s-length proportion. I was using Neil’s stepladder, which has no handle, so I had to balance myself against the part of the wall I hadn’t yet primed in order to crawl up to the top step. Painting was nothing like the magazines made it out to be. And then, dreading what was coming, I had to do it all over again, putting the first coat of paint over the primer.

As I started climbing the ladder, I began thinking about who we have been calling “essential” workers and “non-essential” workers because of the virus. It seems to me that most workers – if not all – are essential. Every job is important, and it is essential that every job is done well. That is why I am happy to hire a painter who knows what he/she is doing, who has a gift for making painting look as if, as the magazines say, anyone can do it, and who takes pride in his/her work. The person who takes pride in checking us out at the grocery store or delivering my groceries is important for making sure we are fed. Ask parents who are having to home-school their children how essential teachers are! The people who skillfully drive the new trash trucks and load up my disposables make the community a more pleasant place to be.

I hope we can take one thing from this difficult time: We truly are in this together, and the sooner we recognize that and treat each other as if we are all essential, the better off we will be as a society. Think about it.


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