Love in the Time of Corona:
Turmeric & Cinnamon Tea
March 16, 2020
My boss says that whenever he gets to feeling down about the Coronavirus, he starts singing “My Sharona,” and that helps. For me, it’s been drinking tea. And ignoring the news.
I’ve been told I’m a master of hyperbole. I tend to say, “Don’t do that, or you’ll die” more frequently than situations warrant. Things are often “the worst” or a “disaster.” We often “almost got abducted.” In part, the tongue-in-cheek exaggeration hides the fact that I have a lot of very real and not always rational fears. I am afraid of being abducted. I am afraid of being struck by lightning, of being hit by a car, of being yelled at, of government collapse, the end of society, apocalypse. My mind zips from the smallest thing to the end of the world in milliseconds. It’s a ride on the anxiety express I’m pretty good at stalling most of the time, but when something happens that makes my irrational fears seem founded, I struggle.
Yet as the clouds of Coronavirus began massing on Berlin’s horizon, I was blasé. The hysteria seemed illogical and inconsistent. How much toilet paper can you really go through in ten days of quarantine? Isn’t hoarding hand soap beside the point when we all need to be washing our hands to avoid spreading germs? And the travel bans and the shirking public spaces and the not meeting friends… Yes, we should wash our hands often, yes we should stay home if we’re sick. But can we really let fear dictate our lives?
I halfheartedly stocked up on non-perishables and dish soap – though while everyone else was panicked about toilet paper, my impulse was to buy a lot of coconut milk and fantasy novels. I even (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this now) decided to spend a day at the sauna. It would be empty, it would be good for my stress, Corona hates heat. But on the bus on the way there, I had a series of panic attacks. What was I doing? Why was I tempting fate? But I pushed through the panic, because I thought that was what I needed to do.
It’s a ride on the anxiety express I’m pretty good at stalling most of the time, but when something happens that makes my irrational fears seem founded, I struggle.
This was still a little while ago, before Corona really hit the city hard, but looking back it was both a foolish and a selfish thing to do. I may be relatively young still and not in a high-risk category, but I’m not the only person who lives in this city.
There’s a difference between hysteria and being smart, a distinction I wasn’t making when I decided to go to Vabali to prove I had no anxiety about Corona. Hysteria is buying out all the toilet paper in the morning and going to a crowded bar to celebrate St. Patrick’s day at night. Being smart is acknowledging that we all have a part to play in combatting a highly contagious pandemic and should be taking appropriate measures – not just for ourselves, but for our community.
What’s helped my Corona anxiety most of all is to admit that I am anxious, and, having admitted it, changing my lifestyle with the conscious knowledge that changes I make now, though perhaps inconvenient, can help the world get back on its feet faster.
Since coming back home from my spa debacle, I’ve been practicing social distancing (the Washington Post has some great visualizations of why this matters). I’m exploring new ways of being with friends. Last week, I had a digital lunch date with a friend, and I’ve been meeting people for long walks in the sunshine instead of out for dinner or drinks. (Sunshine and fresh air are, by all accounts, excellent for combating Corona.)
I’m thinking about this as a time to finish up all my home improvement projects – painting the kitchen, getting the balcony ready for spring – maybe even working on some fiction. As a friend reminded me recently (courtesy of a Twitter screenshot), that while Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.
At the same time, as this really excellent New York Times op ed piece about the class implications of Corona puts it, “Social distancing doesn’t have to mean distancing ourselves from our shared humanity.” It’s a reminder that if we have the luxury of being able to quarantine ourselves, we also have a responsibility to do so for people who do not have that option, like health care professionals, delivery people, or grocery store cashiers. And we can think conscientiously about how we directly put others at risk in order to protect ourselves.
I realize it gets complicated, because in the service industry, if no one is using your services, you’re not getting paid. But in these extraordinary circumstances, caring about the long-term health of the economy might actually mean putting global health first. When the peak of the crisis has passed, it will be imperative to work together to help those who’ve been hit hardest by it. Because absolutely everyone will be affected in some way. That said, there are things we can do now to help. One idea I read recently was to ask favorite local businesses if they sell vouchers or gift cards that can be purchased for later use.
If we have the luxury of being able to quarantine ourselves, we also have a responsibility to do so for people who do not have that option.
Sometimes, when I start thinking about what comes after, I can feel the panic rise. Will governments still be in place? Will the people riot? Will the water supply shut off? I have to remind myself to take things one day at a time, that hysteria helps no one, that I am doing what I can. I make myself another pot of tea. I breathe.
One of my favorite infusion ceremonies at the sauna is the tea ceremony, where the essential oils in the packed ice that’s sizzled onto the sauna hearth correspond to what’s dropped in a pot of water set to boil on the stones. After 15 minutes of scented sweating, there are cups of fresh tea for everyone.
On my last trip to the sauna – perhaps my last trip to a public space in what may be a long while – the tea was made with turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon; turmeric for inflammation, black pepper for circulation, and cinnamon to ward off depression. It’s a soothing drink, every sip a reminder that even in the time of corona, we can’t forget to take care of ourselves and the ones we love.
Turmeric & Cinnamon Tea
You can sweeten this tea with honey if you want, but for me, the cinnamon provides plenty of sweetness. The ingredients happily steep for a second pot, too.
1 1-inch piece of turmeric, peeled and sliced
1 stick cinnamon
20 black peppercorns
70 ml water
Steep turmeric, cinnamon, and peppercorns in a teapot of not-quite boiling water for 10-15 minutes.