Relationships

When the Small Things Are Everything

catherine newman essay

Every day, I print the New York Times crossword puzzle in duplicate, fold the pages into thirds, put them in an envelope, seal the envelope with a heart sticker, and put it in the mail…

I skip one day a week, because my white-haired parents are still going out for the Sunday paper. Every other day I write their address, I choose a stamp, and what’s in my head is something like, “Love love love.” It’s the tiniest act of devotion, like the poet Billy Collins braiding a lanyard for his mother in return for his very life and breath. Everyone in the house makes gentle fun of my nano-heroism. But still, the envelope should be bursting apart at the seams.

People are on the front lines. Doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, essential staff and first responders of all kinds. I can’t even imagine, though I do try to imagine. I bring a small jar of yeast to an older neighbor and, later, he texts me a grateful photograph of his Parker House rolls. “You’re more of a second responder,” my husband teases. The back lines, as it were. Still, pouring out that bit of yeast I had thought, “Be well,” like a mantra.

I make terrible, lumpy masks for friends and family — accidentally sewing the cuff of my flannel shirt into the seams while I push the fabric through my clattery old machine. The elastic bulges. Be well be well be well. I renew our membership to the nonprofit indie movie house that’s not showing any movies. I write a check to the food bank, even though half of our family’s wage earners are earning no wages. Love. Neuroscientists I’ve interviewed have explained the way our brains release feel-good dopamine when we do useful things with our hands, when we volunteer, when we give it away, give it away, give it away now. I am awash in dopamine. Also fear. “That’s nice,” my husband says when he sees me at my machine, and I shake my head, drink deeply from a large jar of red wine, think: “I am actually saving my own life.”

Later that night there’s a knock on the door and my daughter and I, who seem to have grown more batshit feral than we’d realized, run screaming to hide behind the couch, laughing so hard we can’t breathe. My husband answers the door like an actual human being. It’s our neighbor, with a mask on and a loaf of still-warm cinnamon raisin bread for us. Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max. 

Our sunny son is home from college, and we are all so guiltily delighted about this that if our guilty delight were helium, you’d look up and see our house float past. For dinner I make buttery mashed potatoes, his favorite, and he says “Oooh, yum!” I fry him pork chops (“Oooh, yum!”) and then we feed tiny, illicit bites to the cats who are purring around our legs. They climb up into our laps to get closer to the meat, but then forget why they’re there and fall asleep on their backs while we stroke their cheeks and tummies. Our own hearts beat slowly and steadily.

In her book The Rabbit Effect, Kelli Harding writes about a pair of lab assistants who feed rabbits deliberately high-cholesterol diets in order to study heart disease. But only half the rabbits end up manifesting any evidence of illness. It turns out that one of the assistants talks to her bunnies while she’s feeding them — she cuddles them and coos. And those rabbits stay well, even though they shouldn’t. I put food on the table every night and my love for these people is falling out of my eyeballs.

Our son’s college is nearby, and a couple of his friends are stuck there. We make them dinner every Sunday, meticulously packaging up stew or enchiladas, slabs of pound cake, dropping it all off with gloved hands and full hearts. We pick up apples and kale for one neighbor, a baguette for another, wearing our own lumpy masks to the market. It all feels like perfection in miniature. But then the hospice where I (usually) volunteer needs someone to pick up a gallon of vinegar, and I stall until another person offers to do it, a weird smallness of spirit, a drumbeat of anxiety, drowning out my better self. This is not a big deal, to be clear, but I experience the absence of what would have felt good, doing the needed thing. Fear. Love’s shadow is always loss, and it is darkening some of my days.

But I’m putting on my own oxygen mask by helping other people on with theirs, if you understand what I’m trying to say. That’s not actually it, though. It’s so much smaller than an essential molecule. A different plane metaphor: I can breathe at all because I get to open someone’s little bag of pretzels or read to them from the inflight magazine. Nothing that matters — and still it feels, somehow, like my whole life. I’m not a religious person, but sealing those envelopes is pretty much like prayer.


Catherine Newman is the author of the upcoming How to Be a Person, a guide for kids and teenagers.

P.S. 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage boys and what inspires you these days?

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

  1. jeannie says...

    Stunningly beautiful essay that captures so well the way many of us feel right now. Thank you!

  2. Lauren says...

    Beautiful. I found myself wiping away tears of…. sadness? fear? recognition? hope? Maybe all of that and more. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. Varina says...

    Wow. My small act of prayer today is ordering her books from my local bookshop. (Shout out to East City Books: https://www.eastcitybookshop.com/).

    • SusieG says...

      LOVE that as a response to her beautiful post. And you, in turn, made my day because East City is also my local bookstore. Ordered books from them today as part of Giving Tuesday.

  4. SR says...

    Gorgeous. This sums up my feelings of wanting to help others during this time so beautifully. The not knowing, the not doing, the staying still – it all leads to anxiety for me. The movement, any movement, towards others keeps my heart thumping in its usual time. Thank you for putting into words the complicated mix of messy feelings that exist in the time of Covid. Wishing you and your family wellness. XX

  5. Anne says...

    Heartwarmingly beautiful – relationships being the essence of our well beings. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

  6. Allyson says...

    So beautiful. Thank you!

  7. Sarah says...

    Thank you for this. Just beautiful. I’ve begun treating any driving time as personal cheerleading- “You better grow those flowers, your garden looks incredible.” “Run girl! You’re running! You run so fast! Yes!” “Look how gorgeous your lawn looks- you are killing it.” I don’t say any of it *to* the strangers, because, ya know…places to go, social distancing. But I like to think the good vibes are shooting through my dashboard into the world. It puts me in a great mood and I arrive at my destination pumped and smiling.

  8. Frances Millerd says...

    This is my favourite piece of writing on the site for a while! Just beautiful. Thank you.

  9. Jackie says...

    The last line. Whew. How beautiful.

  10. KimS says...

    Beautiful….this really resonated with me: I experience the absence of what would have felt good, doing the needed thing. Fear. Love’s shadow is always loss, and it is darkening some of my days.
    I’m making lumpy masks too….and I am doing it for my sanity.
    Thank you for this.

  11. Holly says...

    Oh my goodness. This is so, so beautiful!

  12. Tara D. says...

    Wow. This was so beautiful! “My love for these people is falling out of my eyeballs.” Yes. This is exactly it! Love love love this so much!!

  13. This is such a beautiful post. We can make a difference by doing small things. The paragraph about the rabbits really hit home.

  14. Vero says...

    This is beautiful. Wow.

  15. Ella says...

    So, so beautiful. Thank you.

  16. jennyg says...

    This is just so incredibly real and lovely and so present. Thank you

  17. Emily says...

    This is beautifully written. What a treat!

  18. Wendy says...

    Oh, love ❤️ this. Thank you

    Also, “ bat shit feral” is just fabulous. Thank you for that too :)

  19. that is so true. I enjoyed that article so much =)
    xoxo
    tina from wimpernverlängerung salzburg

  20. Kimberly says...

    My eyes turn into hearts (like the emoji) whenever I think of Catherine Newman, her husband, and Ben & Birdy. I’ve followed her writing since Ben was a toddler and Birdy was still in the womb. What joy it brings me to read how they are growing into adults.

    This. essay. is. everything. hope.
    Thank you!

  21. abby says...

    This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  22. Sherri says...

    Thank you for being on the planet!

  23. Jennifer says...

    Beautiful. “Be well be well be well.”

  24. Jennifer says...

    So so lovely. My heart feels full again.

  25. leah says...

    Beautiful.

  26. Julie says...

    This felt like someone just warmed up my coffee for me. Thank you, Catherine, for putting into words what so many of us feel right now. And thank you for being a kind person.

  27. Laura says...

    This was so beautiful it took my breath away at times. Thank you.

  28. Brooke. says...

    What a deeply lovely offering. Catherine, thank you for the solace.

  29. StaceyLJ says...

    So very beautiful. Your description “Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max.” Is both sweet and scary, which is accurate. I’m sharing with all my friends.

  30. Holly says...

    Love this. Thank you, Catherine.

    Pre-ordering the book in the hopes that I can borrow a little of you to develop sunny sons of my own. :-)

  31. Eileen says...

    This was one of the best things I’ve read lately. Thank you for the laughs, the warmth, the fear, the beauty. All of it.

  32. Karen T. says...

    Worlds colliding. I’ll follow Catherine to the end of the earth. Thank you for your beautiful words once again, Catherine and thank you, COJ for sharing them.

  33. Kelly says...

    Beautiful. Lovely. This essay is all the wonderful things. I am your kindred second responder as well. I have been cooking for 7 adults for two months now (my husband and I, our three 20 something kids, along with a boyfriend and girlfriend of theirs). I cook and I clean and I cook and I clean and I cook and I clean. But yes, it’s with love and it’s with joy that they are all here, healthy, joking in between the hard news that we get from around the world. Soon quarantine will be over and they will go back to New York, and their own apartments and I we will go out to eat and I won’t be cooking and cleaning all day but, I don’t really want to let them go.

  34. Beth says...

    So beautiful!! Thank you for this.

  35. Hannah says...

    So wonderfully written and so full of love! <3

  36. Olivia says...

    Wow. Reading and re-reading and sending to everyone I love. Thank you for your words, Catherine.

  37. Laura F says...

    This is just beautiful. Thank you

  38. Jamie Shawyer says...

    Such beautiful words and thoughts. Thank you

  39. K says...

    Little House on the Prairie mixed with Mad Max – so true. Hearts of warmth restrained by face masks. I had to be in the hospital for a week last month for my kid, and interact with a lot of the nurses there. They were all so nice and wanting to chat and be friendly, etc., but we had to be cautious at the same time even though no one appeared sick and there were no cases of Covid on the floor which was locked from the floor people who had Covid were on. I overheard one nurse say, “I’m so used to hugging people as they are discharged… It’s so hard not to.” You could see her wanting to but holding back. I sometimes wonder how this will affect humanity in the future. Before I was so used to just being friendly with everyone. Now I feel like people are restrained by the possibility that everyone could possibly be contagious and get me/my family sick, or I could be sick and not know it. You have to be pulled back by assuming the worst of people/myself (not that they are intentionally sick, but may just happen to be) instead of the best. Even with close friends. To put it plainly, it kind of sucks…

    On a side note, I drove by a playground we used to frequent which was taped up and empty, swings thrown and tied around the top bar so kids couldn’t use them, and I pictured the former days where my kid would freely run around it making new friends and me chatting with neighbors, and instead I saw all the possibilities of germs and difficulty in keeping 6 feet apart. I wondered, would we be able to do that again in the near future? Or will we be suspicious of whether someone may get us sick, or we get them sick? i wonder if after all this we may have some kind of PTSD…like when you have had bed bugs (paranoia of the invisible, etc), except this time the whole world has it and there’s no escaping to a different apartment…and it can cause sickness/death. I hope/long/look forward to better days…one day…

  40. Susan Mills says...

    How beautifully said!

  41. Christina Honkonen says...

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  42. Sally says...

    This was lovely. :) Thank you.

    I have found myself wishing I could do more practical things to help people during this, but my finances are soooooo strained right now, that I, for the first time in my adult life, literally have nothing to spare. My two jobs disappeared overnight, and every penny is earmarked for food and bills. I WISH I could donate to foodbanks, I WISH I could buy fabric and make masks for my neighbours. I WISH I could volunteer and deliver medicines and food to the vulnerable, but I have no money for petrol.

    But I’m also slowly realising that it’s just not my turn to be the helper. When I’m working again, I will happily give to the foodbanks again, I’ll happily return to making charitable donations. I just can’t right now. And that’s okay.

    But I can also text and call my friends. I can send my autistic older sister silly memes I know she’ll laugh at. I can facetime every day with my aging mum. I can send an email every Tuesday to my friend I know struggles with anxiety, so she’ll have something predictable to respond to. I can leave positive comments on strangers instagrams.

    I can still do lots of things.

    • Sarah says...

      All of those things matter so much. You have lots to give! Your attitude is inspiring.

  43. Liat says...

    This was so beautifully written, what a lovely lovely piece. I really hope that once the world returns to normal these small deeds of kindness and community (which for some have newly been discovered) stay around xxxx

  44. Sofie says...

    Reading this calmed my fearfull heart <3

  45. Raleigh says...

    Thank you, Catherine! Second to my sisters, you are the best second responder out there. xoxo This was a wonderful and happy read as I curled up on the couch for “free time” after being an essential worker all day and student by night. I told my mom tonight, if I ever doubt my value later in life, I can always recall the days when I was *essential*. I make light of a tough season, but truly appreciate the love pouring out from the second responders everywhere. For every person who doesn’t buy the last bag of popcorn kernels (thank you!), to the precious family members who coordinated a funeral so the rest of the family could attend my uncle’s service virtually, together. <3 Grateful for the first-rate second responders. xoxo

    • Cynthia says...

      “if I ever doubt my value later in life, I can always recall the days when I was *essential*. ” Do not ever doubt your worth. We could not survive without all the previously unnoticed workers who are now suddenly seen. My wish is that in our future new “normal”, we will treat everyone with more grace and kindness.

    • Raleigh says...

      Thanks Catherine!! <3 I said it a bit tongue in cheek, but couldn't agree more – I hope the new "normal" keeps a lot of this "abnormal" beauty we're experiencing right now.

      Here are two gifts that were given to me in this season, and maybe they'll be meaningful for the other first&second&third responders out there. Love you, CoJ tribe. xoxo

      1) "So we are always of good courage." 2 Corinthians 5:6a (not just when the pandemic days go well, but our hearts are of good courage… *always*. Thrills.)

      2) If you need a cry or to be tender for a bit – https://onbeing.org/programs/a-poem-in-gratitude-for-health-care-workers/

  46. Megan says...

    WOW ❤️ No other words

  47. Ashley says...

    Thank you!!!

  48. Kay says...

    This was just what I needed to read this morning, thank you. I have been trying to do something kind each day, even if it is just sending cards to friends. I feel as if we all need extra love at the moment. x

  49. Sara says...

    Oh wow, you have an extraordinary way with words, Catherine! What a beautiful piece of writing, what beautiful thoughts, what a wonderful spirit you have. Thank you for sharing. This made my heart swell.

  50. Emma says...

    This so warms my heart when I read it…..Thank you so much.

  51. Sabrina says...

    I think I love you.

  52. Sarah says...

    This is everything. Thank you for these words.

  53. Lisa says...

    beautiful beautiful beautiful

  54. This made me happy!

  55. Angela Cho says...

    You’re an angle and a gifted writer. Thank you. ❤️

  56. Rebecca says...

    My husband and I are frontline (albeit in a very calm part of this world). It is the “second line” that is carrying us forward . Thank you x

  57. Tina E Redmond says...

    My daughter emailed this to me and I just read it. With tears in my eyes. This is me. Thank you for putting my feelings into words.

  58. Milka says...

    This essay is gold. Thank you. And everyone should read “Waiting for
    Birdy” for more of
    Catherine newman’s insights, humor and clarity. Her writing is perfection in miniature.

  59. Carrie says...

    Loveliest thing I have read on the internet this week. Thank you. I feel like I will be buying Catherine’s book xx

  60. Stacy says...

    I want to die reading this. The beauty floors me.

  61. Olivia says...

    Maybe my favorite thing I’ve ever read on CoJ

  62. NN says...

    This is so absolutely beautiful. Funny and touching and so evocative, and my heart.

  63. Laura says...

    This is WONDERFUL..

    Thank you.

    I’m forwarding it to everyone I love and miss.

  64. Annie says...

    Thank you for this – I LOVE your writing and your heart.

  65. Megan says...

    As soon as I read this I immediately sent to my mother . As a frontline worker in a nursing home I could not do it with out her .. I may be out there but it’s her making masks , signs for the staff at my nursing home and al the other way she literally has become my second line of defense. Thank you and all those supporting us and others ! ❤️

  66. Amy says...

    Tears are streaming down my face, both for the beauty of the words and for their depth. I relate to the idea of these small acts that feel so monumental. Thank you for such a gorgeous essay.

  67. Isabel says...

    Both of my parents are healthcare workers. I am immensely proud of them, in ways that I can’t voice. This piece reminds me of my mom so much. I haven’t seen her (or my father) in weeks (in college, quarantining, exc.). Your words made me cry. Thank you.

  68. Jennifer S. says...

    Thank you, Catherine. This was what my soul today.

    • B says...

      Yes, completely agree Jennifer. This was exactly what my soul needed today, and I suspect it will get reread quite a few times.

  69. Elizabeth says...

    This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you!

  70. verena says...

    love this piece.

  71. Carol says...

    Thank you for this, Catherine.

  72. Abs says...

    Your writing is absolutely poetic. I was immediately captivated, and would happily read an entire book of your thoughts.

    Take good care❤️

  73. CandiceZ says...

    This is beautiful – and so are you.

  74. Quinn says...

    This is just beautiful. I kept selecting sentences that resonated thinking I’d emphasize them in my comment but there were too many! Thank you for this, Catherine. Take good care.

  75. I loved reading this. Much needed :)

  76. Nicole says...

    My goodness! This got me good. Thank you, Catherine, for these beautiful words. A silver lining to this pandemic is recognizing humanity’s enormous capacity for empathy and hoping we can all tap into it.

  77. Katie says...

    This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.

  78. Amber says...

    This was beautiful and so inspiring! Thank you for sharing this – I am writing down one of the quotes to make sure I remember it!

  79. Patricia says...

    Thanks Catherine! So good:)

  80. Kate Brandes says...

    Love this. Thank you.

  81. Maggie says...

    Wow. That almost took my breath away.

  82. Emily says...

    So beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes!

  83. Katie says...

    So nice I read it twice. Thank you. xo

  84. Tasha says...

    Just really lovely :)

  85. Meg says...

    absolutely gorgeous. thank you.

  86. Karen says...

    Heart warmed. Again. Love to all. Be well.

  87. Caitlin says...

    Oh god, Catherine Newman is the most beautiful writer. What a gift it was to read this.

    • Megan says...

      I came to the comments to say exactly this!

    • Rebecca K Ringquist says...

      I couldn’t agree more- I’ve every book she’s written over and over. I’m thrilled to hear there’s a new one on the horizon.

  88. Libby says...

    This is so lovely. Thank you!

  89. Emma says...

    Oofta. This was so perfectly written. Thank you, Catherine.

  90. Rosie says...

    “Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max”

    This is the best description of April 2020 I have read.

    • Karen says...

      So accurate!

    • Megan Reilly Keeler says...

      Yes!

    • Natalie Joy says...

      right? it encapsulates everything. this sentence hits it on the nose

  91. Amanda says...

    Second responders, I love that idea <3

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, soothing essay. I am having a rough day, and this helps.

  92. Aghhh I knew it was Catherine Newman writing this before I even scrolled up to check. Her writing is such a rare amalgam of poetry and prose that I recognize it anywhere (and also, after laughing and crying through the two beautiful books she wrote while raising her small children I am deeply familiar with her writing voice).

    On another note, it’s refreshing to read someone’s positive experience during all of this. I know that those of us who are experiencing life with little change right now are among the very privileged, but there are so many heartbreaking stories of struggle right now that it’s nice to read a happy one.

    Thanks for sharing, CoJ!

  93. Emiley says...

    Oh how I love Catherine Newman! I kept my subscription to Real Simple for years just because of her advice column. And this was so beautiful. And Kelsey Miller’s recent piece really hit home. I feel like she so eloquently summed EXACTLY how I’ve been feeling these days. In other words, thank you. For all of this.

  94. jodi says...

    good one, i think we are hungry for a deep dive right now
    what do we especially miss in our lives during this time and what do we love, oddly enough about this time
    what are small pleasures, etc
    what we are listening to lately that helps? podcasts tv, movies, music, books?
    we love when you all get real and we love reading what is happening to everyone else makes us not feel we are in this alone

  95. Lauren Cesca says...

    I love this essay so so so much. Tears are welling up because this expresses exactly how I feel and how I am processing these times. it’s amazing how one can feel so fully seen and actualized by the words and experience of another. thank you Catherine and Cup of Jo

  96. Ramya says...

    Thank you. This is beautiful.

  97. Bex says...

    So lovely. Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max. Thank you for this piece.

  98. Gisela says...

    Such a lovely text… thank you so much for sharing… Being a “second” responder like that totally matters!!!

  99. Katelyn says...

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your words with us.

  100. Robin says...

    YES!!! Thank you.

  101. Patty says...

    Oh Catherine Newman, I recognized your voice 2 sentences in. What a treat.

  102. Olivia says...

    Argh. This is perfect.

  103. Elizabeth says...

    Of the many things I appreciate about Catherine Newman, perhaps the most telling is how familiar her voice has become. I did not look at the byline, only began reading. There was no mention by name of Ben, nor Birdy, so it was fully halfway through that I realized the author and inside my voice said, ‘oh Catherine!’ as if a friend had walked in the room or called from afar. Thank you for helping all of us find the words to express this strange time. None of us have any experience here, and it’s so reassuring to know that your voice is still here to guide us along the way.

  104. lib says...

    i love this. and now im crying…because i’m always the one helping, thinking of others, overextending, volunteering and being overly thoughtful. and i can’t anymore..i’m working and i don’t want to be, i don’t know how to ask for the help i so readily give because i don’t know what i need. but i do know that i need to not hear people complain about being bored, i need people to stay home and just accept that no, i’m sorry, but right now your “freedom” to move about is contained for the sake of everyone…and no Karen, no gives a rats ass about your roots growing in. im venting now! ahhh stop! so sorry…anyway…please keep giving please keep reaching out to those that you think have it together.

  105. M says...

    Brutiful. Damn she can write.

  106. Laurel Hammond says...

    This is so beautiful.

  107. So lovely. Yep, it’s those nano things we do. My husband is a retired photographer and has a stockpile of photographic cards. He decided to pull them out and send them off to friends. We’ve received lots of loving notes in return and even a bouquet of flowers. Mail in the time of coronavirus is a special thing.

  108. Justine says...

    I want to lie on the floor weeping after reading this beautiful post. This line sums up my whole experience with Covid: ” Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max.” So very, very accurate. I bake bread, I bake cookies, I cook, I clean, I work from the little home office I’ve carved out of the corner of our living room, grateful to be employed. Inside everything is glossy and homey. But outside, I suffer extreme fits of anxiety if an actual human being comes within speaking distance. Trips to the store feel like dangerous quests. I harbour deep resentment at our building owners who put garden boxes in our shared common space last week, but only for their own personal use. I felt anger beyond reason at that small act of pettiness on their part.

  109. Faith says...

    Wow. This might be my favorite Cup of Jo essay ever. Thank you!

  110. Una says...

    This essay was delicious! ❤

  111. Flic says...

    It’s not often I read something that makes me cry. May love light the way for you.

  112. Becky says...

    “…I put food on the table every night and my love for these people is falling out of my eyeballs.”

    Goodness. Ugly crying now.

  113. Claire says...

    Remarkable writing.

  114. Allie says...

    This, now. Thank you!

  115. Samantha says...

    this is just so beautifully written.

  116. Anna says...

    “But I’m putting on my own oxygen mask by helping other people on with theirs” — YES!! Why I have always chafed at that saying, even though it’s so well-intentioned (and true in its own way too!). We are in this life together; we are bound up in each other. Community care IS self care.

    • Amanda says...

      “We are in this life together; we are bound up in each other.” That is so beautiful.

  117. AE says...

    I feel this so deeply. I began a high stress job this past fall after completing residency and also got married and moved last fall. My typical life motto is “My oxygen mask, then yours”- like the author mentions but the only thing that has been saving me from despair has been to POUR into my husband. His love language is acts of service and I’ve been spending my new- found free time by cooking [pretty much 3 meals/day when I’m not working], organizing the house [something he has paralyzing dread over], cleaning, etc.– all things i usually heartily avoid. But pouring into him has been keep me sane. When I take a break or skip cooking for him [on days where I want to sit in bed and read all day], I feel off… So I just keep pouring into him, making sure he’s okay and holding steady during his furlough, and it’s inspired me to pour into my friends and family far away, too [I’ve been sending snail mail, checking in frequently w/o making conversations about me, etc.] It feels good to “open the pretzels” for other’s at this time….

  118. NR says...

    Beautiful and relatable, every word.

  119. jrg says...

    this brought me such peace, thank you.

  120. Megan Lec says...

    So incredibly true. My brother is an EMT in our town so we haven’t been able to see him in weeks. A couple weeks ago he asked if we needed anything from the store and I let him know we were doing great but running dangerously low on toilet paper. A day or two later he called me on his way to drop some off at our door. In my driveway we exchanged through an open back window a sleeve of toilet paper for two lovingly crafted pizza dough balls. I texted him the instructions and nearly cried as he drove away. Such a small things seemed like the biggest thing.

  121. Joanne Felice says...

    So lovely.

  122. Agnès says...

    That was so beautiful Catherine, and so personal and yet so relatable, thank you so much. I spend so much of my day thinking about right and good, kindness, gentleness, agressivity, love and violence. I feel like a pendulum, ready to fall easily on either side.
    You’re a great writer!

  123. Jessica says...

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful

  124. Dawn says...

    When my future grandchildren ask me what it was like during the time of corona virus, this is what I’ll show them. What a sublime piece. Thank you for sharing!

  125. Lynn Beine says...

    I wish there was a rating system on the COJ comment section. I would give this 5+ Stars! ❤️

  126. Emma says...

    I just love Catherine’s writing — been a long time fan. What a perfect description of this time and a reminder of all the invisible, small kindnesses happening in the world. It’s a nice counter-balance to the normal, scary news cycle.

  127. Jill says...

    Beautifully written and perfectly stated!

  128. Mary Jane says...

    I love this so much!

  129. Saba says...

    Oh yes, this. All of this. It is such a beautiful insight.

  130. Emily says...

    I found myself reading each sentence of this essay slower and slower, soaking up each thoughtfully-chosen word. By the end, the cadence read like a poem and I swear my heart was singing. Thank you for your beautiful words, Catherine ❤️

    • Tracy says...

      Yes! This reader said it so perfectly. What an unexpectantly, beautiful essay. By the end I felt like I just received a hug.

    • cilla says...

      exactly! This is the most wonderful thing that I’ve read in months. Thank you!

  131. Maggie says...

    “Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max. ” Yep.

    • Heather says...

      Yes – this sentence really captured my feelings!

  132. kathleen says...

    This is extraordinarily beautiful.

  133. Hannah says...

    I’ve been pulling out invasive weeds in my mother’s yard because it makes me feel like I can stop the metastasis and spread of her cancer and the spread of COVID infections. I’ve been climbing mountains to remind myself you need only put one foot in front of the other.

    • Christina says...

      Sending you love, Hannah ❤️

    • Justine says...

      Hugs to you and your mama Hannah

    • Sending SilveR Sparkles to you and your mother, Hannah. I’m glad you have found a way to vent your sadness. I can’t even imagine….

  134. Julie says...

    I needed this today.

  135. Christian says...

    Such a beautiful piece from one of my favorite writers – thank you!

  136. C. says...

    this is beautiful, i am crying but in a good way

  137. Kasia says...

    I never comment, I just gulp CoJ – I love it.
    But something about this just made me weep and compelled me to write.
    Thank you so much for writing and sharing.

  138. Lindsey says...

    I am immeasurably grateful to the first responders on the front lines caring for our bodies as well as the second responders on the back lines caring for our souls. Thank you, Jo and co., for providing a platform for positivity, and to Catherine for the beautiful essay. Sending love to all <3

  139. Aankhi says...

    What a beautiful write-up. This is all the world needs – a few good people.

  140. Donna S says...

    More people should be like you! Your good deeds are good for others and yourself! Kudos :)

  141. Emma Knight says...

    this is lovely

  142. Stephanie says...

    Catherine, this is just so beautiful.

  143. Rosa says...

    This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in the past eight weeks. Thank you!

  144. “Everything feels like Little House on the Prairie crossed with Mad Max.” Yes! This is a perfect description! ??❤️

  145. Christine H says...

    Simply beautiful

  146. Lindsey Joy Fox says...

    Holy shit. This was beautiful to read. Thank you.

    As a lover of snail mail and the daily NYT crossword you had me from the get go. Yay.

    Your essay reminded me of Little Altars Everywhere, one of my favourite Barbara Brown Taylor books. Everything is sacred, is the basic point. Prayers are the practices that help you pay attention. Make little altars *everywhere.* It’s a great read.

    Anyways, thank you so much for your writing and your second responding. Xoxo

    • claire says...

      I’ve been wanting to read one of her books. Thanks for the rec.

    • Maree says...

      I had to stop the music I had on once I started reading this article so I could really absorb it, I’ve read it 3 times and I love it.

  147. Joy Osmanski says...

    Oh thank you. What a beautiful window into your world.