In January of this year, Caroline Hawkins was teaching in Uganda. Her younger sister Eliza was studying in Sydney. Middle brother Charlie was working in Dallas. The kids found their way home to Nashville as the virus spread, and the girls are staying for a while. Caroline, Eliza, and their mom Elizabeth stop in at Bacon today to reflect on the unexpected…

Good morning, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Eliza! I’m so happy to spend some time with you this morning! 

On January 15, 2020, where were you? What did your daily life look like? What were you thinking about?

Elizabeth: I was beginning to pack for a very big trip over a year in the planning to New Zealand and Australia while also planning a dinner for Bill as he was celebrating a “milestone” birthday when we returned. We left for our trip on February 9th and were able to enjoy a trip of a lifetime before the entire world stopped spinning.

We had no idea what we were coming home to and sadly had to make the call of cancelling Bill’s birthday party too.

Caroline: On January 15th, I was inhaling new beginnings. It was my 5th month living in Jinja, Uganda, and the first week of a new school year. Sixteen tiny bare feet piling into our open air classroom where you could feel the cool breeze from the Nile River through the curtains. I had spent 10 years dreaming and praying about moving to Uganda, and felt like I was just starting to find my rhythm. I was starting my new job as Director of Education at HEAL Ministries and house hunting for a place to make Jinja my home. 

Eliza: On January 15, I finally felt like things were looking up. It was my second week in Sydney, Australia, where I was planning to study abroad for 5 months. I had been nervous when I first arrived because the city was grey with smoke. So much for never smoking a cigarette or owning a Juul – I was sure my lungs were done for. On the bus from the airport to my apartment, my program director handed each of us a face mask (oh, the irony) and gave us a run-down of apps to download to check the air quality each day. Nearly 450 million acres had burned due to the 2019-2020 bushfire season: Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed, and in addition to human fatalities, millions of animals were killed. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d come at the wrong time… the city was in mourning. After swimming at the beach, I’d find ashes in my hair. It was amazing to see how Australians handled such a massive natural disaster with unity, compassion and positivity. Within 15 days, the city transformed into one of the most beautiful places in the world. The blue skies and the creamy-white, ash-free sand returned. My daily schedule consisted of a morning run through the city, a 3-hour psychology class, listening to a podcast or music while taking a 30-minute bus to the beach for $2, and reading, swimming, and learning to surf for hours in the afternoons. I was living with one of my best friends from Vanderbilt, along with 6 other girls I was just getting to know. At night, my new friends and I reverted back to cringe-worthy middle school get-to-know-you games like “Never Have I Ever” with our hallmates before going out and exploring bars. My favorite was a retro-themed speakeasy, the Soda Factory, which had soulful live music and (unfortunately) exorbitantly expensive drinks including boozy milkshakes. Other evenings we had movie nights and cooked meals together. 

Fast forward to late May, 2020. Where are you? What does your daily life look like? What are you thinking about?

Elizabeth: Wow… 16 weeks later. Right now I am thinking the most about high school and college seniors this month. So many special times and moments that they are not able to celebrate as a community – proms, formals, awards, and especially graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

As far as daily life – lots of cooking , cleaning and deferred house maintenance projects! With three adult children rotating in and out it has been a very unexpected time to connect – lots and lots of “distance” walks in Percy Warner Park and the McCabe Greenway, walking the dog in the neighborhood, time to actually read through cookbooks and experiment. We have tried to support our local favorite restaurants with carry out for lunch and dinner too. We have game nights of Rummikub and have just set up a pickle ball court in the driveway. I’ve also been enjoying Marco Polo app with out of town family for periodic check ins as well as Audible for lots of time to catch upon on  books I wanted to read.

Caroline: It still feels surreal that I am here in the states. Every morning, I am aware of the crisp white comforter I am nestled in and still habitually scrubbing my feet in the shower expecting them to be covered in red African clay. I am pretty strong-willed and was determined to stay in Uganda for the COVID crisis, despite earnest pleas from my family to come home. My boss sent us an email that we were required to fly home on the next US Embassy flight, so I surrendered. My mother refreshed the Qatar Airlines website as if she was a 16 year old in 2010 trying to buy Jonas Brothers tickets. My roommates and I had no Wifi, and she managed to book the last three tickets on the flight home. 

The whole evacuation, ex-pat caravan to the airport, and proceeding 30+ hour flights home, I felt disconnected from what was happening. It was like I was going through the motions but not processing any of it. 

Eliza: Today, I’m at home in Nashville with my family. I’m taking four classes right now, but I’ve still had a lot of time to work on some art projects, enjoy the weather, and read a few good books! I also made the mistake of downloading TikTok, which now wastes hours of my nights.

I’ve mostly been thinking about the future – How could we improve our response to national health crises? What is the future of travel? What can I be doing right now to feel productive? How can we take care of our mental health while we are in such an unexpected situation? How can we connect with and encourage others during this time? Some days the buildup of stress leads to debilitating migraines, a reaction I haven’t experienced in over 4 years.

What are you most worried about in the Time of Corona?

Elizabeth: I am most concerned about : family who are in the “at risk” category for contracting COVID-19; all of the small business owners and non-profits and their employees… they are the heartbeat of our communities! I’m also concerned about anyone struggling through this time battling a non-COVID related health issue in fear or isolation – especially those struggling with mental health or addiction issues.

Caroline: I am most worried about how Corona will impact third world countries like Uganda where social distancing and isolation is a privilege few can afford. Uganda is also facing flash floods, locust plagues destroying food supply, and 227 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. 

Eliza: I have many worries. Primarily, I am worried for the elderly… not only because they are quite vulnerable, but also because their social interaction has to be so limited. I know it is a lonely time for a lot of people, especially those who may not understand technology. I think loneliness is possibly the worst feeling in the world. I also worry for those in unsafe homes who are victims of domestic abuse. On another note, I am nervous about how this will impact global order and foreign relations, as well as our economy. 

How do you relax? What brings you contentment? What relieves stress?

Elizabeth: As far as relaxing: SLOW mornings!! I love early mornings to reflect and read and pray and enjoy several cups of coffee. SLOW evenings to watch the sunset with a glass of wine or quarantini! I’m hoping this pace will have residual health benefits!

As far as contentment: Appreciating some of the silver linings to this abrupt slow-down. Making a gratitude list. I would NEVER have had this kind of time with my 21, 24, and 26 year old children at home! It’s been a good time to re-evaluate a lot of my priorities. I have reconnected with friends from childhood all the way through college and stayed in touch with local friends too with weekly Zoom calls.

As far as stress relief: The joy of no traffic when I do need to get out!! I’m enjoying my neighborhood streets as they must have been in the 1960’s – haha! No speeding cars cutting through to Green Hills!! Enjoying my spring garden – all the chirping birds and nest building, the resurgence of croaking frogs, the return of butterflies – I am so thankful that the quarantine has been in the spring!

Caroline: I find peace being barefoot outside, reading my Bible, watercolor painting, going on long, slow runs. Or short fast ones. 

Some days, I’ve been driving out to the Harpeth River!

Eliza: I’ve found that the best coping methods for me are spending 1-on-1 time with family members, playing pranks on my mom, crafting, getting outside, and exercising. For example, after playing pickleball with my dad in the driveway, I always end up with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard at his commentary or my struggle to beat him. I also feel like the situation has brought my extended family together. We have a group text where people send pictures every day of happy memories. If not for this situation, I probably wouldn’t connect with some of those people for months.

For particularly stressful days, I am a huge advocate for a relaxing epsom salt bath. Light a candle, put on some relaxing music, and maybe even read a book in the bath if you’re feeling dangerous. 

What have you learned about yourself? Others?

Elizabeth: I am someone who thrives on routine and the disruption of so many things has taught me to loosen up quite a bit and just go with the rhythm and flow of the day. I’ve loved the way I have been able to interact with essential workers at the grocery and pharmacy etc. and how caring and inquisitive we all are about each other – it has removed a lot of barriers!

Caroline: I have learned that grief and gratitude can coexist in my space. I used to want to chase all the pain away with sunshine, laughter, and making the most of dark situations, but I’m learning to welcome the pain. And the grief of what I’ve lost during Corona season. 

I’ve also seen how this pandemic has dismantled the illusion of control. Things in my life I thought I could control have gone completely out the window!  I’m learning that hope is a dangerous thing worth clinging to. 

Eliza: I’ve learned the value of social connection and self-compassion. For example, I’ve realized smiling or small talk with strangers from a distance boosts my mood. Short conversations with my grandma from her front porch make my day. I also realized that facetiming or zooming with friends always makes me feel better, even when the idea of socializing sounds exhausting. As for self-compassion, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be kind, happy, and put others before myself. However, this month I’ve allowed myself to feel sadness, frustration, and anxiety. Instead of judging my negative reaction, I’ve actively tried to be gentle with myself and validate my feelings. It’s a difficult, stressful situation. We all deserve some extra room to feel. It’s a learning experience!

It’s a big deal for you girls to be living at home again. How is that? 

Elizabeth: I learned a long time ago that life (including marriage and parenting) is a process of sanctification –  and that the only thing constant is change (through both growth and setbacks) and how we adjust to that change. Raising children then launching them into adulthood and adjusting to an “empty nest” with my adventurous spouse was “the plan”… however , I have named this season the “boomerang” as my chicks have returned to the nest –  although only temporarily – and I am seizing every opportunity to invest in those relationships.

Caroline: My first two weeks home I was in quarantine and I felt so trapped I wanted to completely lose my mind. But once I got over myself, I started treasuring every moment with my sister and my mom and dad! I live 8,000 miles away from them and feel incredibly blessed to get to do the ordinary simple things with them every day. Fishing with my dad. Long walks with my mom. Mario Bros and pillow talks with Eliza! 

Eliza: Living in Australia earlier this year was the most independent I’ve ever felt. I can’t deny that being at home feels like a setback. How do I put this… it seems like being at home psychologically amplifies my negative qualities. For example: I am less motivated; I am more sensitive (I cry about once a week, then dramatically will not take comfort from my kind family members); I often walk around looking like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown; I am non-confrontational to the point where I am bursting with passive aggressive commentary.

However, it’s also been a lot of fun being at home (yes, I said that). I’ve seen it as an opportunity to escape my usual routine and create deeper relationships with my family. My sister Caroline and I haven’t had this much time together in over 5 years, and we were able to isolate together for a few weeks at the beach last month. This was the first time we’ve ever been alone on a trip together, and it felt surreal to have that time with her. 

When do you think we get back to “normal” life? Or is there a new normal ahead of us? Where do you think you’ll be on September 1, 2020?

Elizabeth: My hope is for a medical breakthrough to crush the virus or prevent it altogether! I’m afraid that it will take a while to get life back to where we were on many levels. I miss humanity and eye contact and hugs!!

I hope I will be getting ready to visit my family in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby in September!! My brother is involved in thoroughbred racing and it’s a lot of fun to celebrate his successes as his big sister!

Caroline: My “normal” life will be when I  move  back to Uganda. I left behind my new home, belongings, job, and friends. But until the international flight opens up, my new normal is being present here with friends, family, and my new job nannying for the two sweetest kids in the world and social distance teaching! 

Eliza: I think we will realistically be back to normal once there is a widely available vaccine, which could be as early as December 2020. I am hoping I will be back on campus at Vanderbilt, but I think social distancing will still be in place, and large lecture classes and usual social gatherings will have to restructure.

What are you reading/watching/listening to? We all need distractions – and comfort – and things that stretch us…

Elizabeth: It seems many of us as Bacon followers are reading a lot of the same things – but remember I am way behind and loving the recommendations! I’m taking a lot of tips from my daughters! I have read The Dutch House, Giver of Stars, and am finishing up Daisy Jones and the Six. Next up is Michelle Obama’s Becoming… we are the same age and I am very interested in her memoir (plus I want to read first before watching the Netflix documentary!) I am a Parnassus junkie and have shelves and shelves of books to get to! I also can’t wait to read David Rubenstein’s The American Story and Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations.

Caroline: I am currently reading Madeline Miller’s Circe, a breathtaking and enchanting spin on Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I loved reading about the heroes of ancient Greece through the tragic heroine’s perspective. I also have been meditating on Becca Stevens devotions Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me

Eliza: I’m listening to the Happiness Lab podcast, which you can find easily online. I LOVE IT! 

I’m reading two dramatically different books: The Hope Circuit is a memoir by a cognitive psychologist and his journey to finding optimism and understanding the impact of positive psychology; The Whisper Network is a fictional, female-centered murder mystery centered around sexual misconduct in the workplace.

The only TV show I’ve watched is “The Act”, a true-crime series on Hulu which was disturbing and thought-provoking. I also recommend the mini-documentary series “The Mind Explained” and “Coronavirus Explained” on Netflix. 

I always end with a few Speed Dating questions. Thank you for playing!

Favorite beverage in the Time of Corona?

Elizabeth: AM – several freshly ground cups of coffee; PM – New Zealand Pinot
Caroline: 19 Crimes Cabernet Sauvignon
Eliza: As the baby of the family who is finally 21, I’ve been having loads of fun making cocktails. My favorite is Ina Garten’s pink cosmopolitan.

Favorite snack?

Elizabeth: parmesan crisps
Caroline: carrots & ginger miso dressing
Eliza: frozen mango with chile peppers, lime, and salt 

Greatest annoyance…

Elizabeth: speeding/texting drivers
Caroline: people complaining on their Instagram stories
Eliza: fake news and shameless massive gatherings in public

Guilty pleasure…

Elizabeth: Jeni’s Ice Cream
Caroline: Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club & Drake’s new album
Eliza: watching cringe-worthy scenes on Youtube from 90-Day Fiance (Ed and Rose) 

Favorite time of day…

Elizabeth: morning
Caroline: sunrise
Eliza: mid-morning

Best life advice in the Time of Corona…

Elizabeth: Keep short accounts with everyone and be kind – you never know what someone else is going through!

Caroline: A kind soul wrote me a sympathy letter describing “how hard it must be for me to leave my life’s work,” with Mary Oliver’s poem called “Peonies.” It opened my heart a little more than yesterday, with the question:

“Do you also hurry half-dressed and barefoot
Into the garden and softly,
Exclaiming of their dearness
Fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment before they are nothing forever.”

Eliza: My dad loves fishing. You could even say he’s obsessed. I’ve seen him practicing throwing his net in our backyard in Nashville almost every day. He recently bought a boat, and it’s truly his pride and joy. When my sister and I were at the beach last month, my dad was with us for a week. One day, he went out early in the morning by himself on his boat. It began to storm heavily in the afternoon. I was worried because I hadn’t heard from him. When he finally got home, he told me that it had been raining so hard he couldn’t see two feet in front of him. He had been in the middle of the ocean, completely disoriented. While I found this pretty terrifying, the way he responded amazed me. He said that in that moment, he looked up with the rain hitting his face, smiled, and thought to himself, “Isn’t it amazing to be alive right now?” 

This reaction completely shocked me. When I’ve felt really low during the past few weeks, I remember this story. The fact that we are alive – right here, right now – in a storm where we feel completely out of control, is pretty incredible. Remind yourself to keep this chapter of our lives in perspective. 

*      *      *

You get the last word, dear Eliza. xoxo

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