“Essential workers” have been deservedly lauded over the past almost two-year pandemic. Medical professionals, among other “frontline workers,” have had to grapple with potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus, as well as the effect of compounded, concentrated stress and anxiety. There have been other “heroes,” though, some right in our backyard.
Allow me to introduce you to Tricia and Jerry, my landlords. They became my lessors because they offered a “frontline worker stay” through a temporary housing site last year. I was a nurse working a time-limited contract testing people for COVID-19. Tricia and Jerry enabled me to live in their beautiful flat near the top of Potrero Hill. What was originally a three-month commitment extended to more than a year.
During this difficult period Tricia and Jerry offered a sanctuary, perfectly equipped with all things necessary for staying-at-home. A deck overlooks the Bay to the east and north, providing a highlight at the beginnings and ends of trying days in uncomfortable conditions.
In ordinary times I wouldn’t have been able to afford the rent. Yet in this extraordinary period I found myself waking hours before the sun, quietly sitting outside soaking in the sights and sounds of early morning life crossing the Bay Bridge. Daybreak’s stillness became a most-sacred preparation for eight- and 10-hour days shielded by gowns, gloves and respirators, days working to mitigate the fears of hundreds of people presenting for testing, days that ended in nursing sore shoulders and wrists from the repetitive motion of collecting specimens, as well as physical exhaustion unlike anything I’d experienced.
Most people who knew what kind of work I was doing were reluctant to ask about it. That resulted in either less frequent contact with friends or conversations driven in any direction than my work life. The resulting isolation was as unexpected as experiencing a global public health crisis.
However, neither Tricia nor Jerry considered me anything less than a neighbor and community member, often checking in on me – safely-distanced and masked, of course, in the shared outdoor space – to make sure I was well and had everything I needed to stay that way. I often found a bag of fresh citrus fruit waiting for me along with wishes for my continued health. At no point did I feel as though I posed a threat to their sensibilities of safety after hundreds of personal, yet protected, exposures a day, even as I was concerned for them.
Not only did Tricia and Jerry offer their peaceful home to a stranger, but they consistently demonstrated the need to remain balanced through each day’s unpredictable happenings. There were lots of smiles and laughs, shared prepared dishes and sweet treats, lots of “right on” and “get down” for encouragement, and no intangible sense that they were afraid. They carried on living in the safest world they could create around themselves, absent the weightiness of panic readily available beyond the door’s threshold.
This was inspirational for me. I knew I struck gold when I could come home from the thick of pandemic madness and just relax. I suspect this wasn’t the norm for many people. My landlords didn’t know ow much work THEY did on the frontlines. At least not until now.