Guest post by Jonna Huseman

What is your profession/involvement in the community?
Marine biologist at NOAA, and also a part-time musician. I play with the bands King TeddyThe Hula Monsters, and the Grandsons. I’ve lived in Silver Spring since 1997 and have been active in bringing Hawai’ian music to the community as well.

How has your life changed since the community has been impacted by Coronavirus?
The world has shrunk. None of us have the freedom to go where we want to, when we want to, anymore. I’m not commuting to work. I’m teleworking. We definitely aren’t going out as much anymore. Things that we did just two months ago—very normal things, like shopping—are now fraught with implications.

My girlfriend Karen’s birthday was in the second week of March. We went out to dinner that evening to celebrate. That entire weekend, things were changing—shops were closing, events were being cancelled. We may have been the last sit-down customers at a nice restaurant. We were in there and the floor was empty.

As for bands, I haven’t seen any of my band mates. My last gig was February 16. Usually I have a gig at least once a week. I’ve had several cancelled since then. Each of the bands I’m in has had events cancelled. There are gigs on the books coming up, but obviously none of us know if those things are coming back.

Are you working more or less?
I’m more or less working.

I am working. I have the same job and should be doing the exact same things, but I’m used to being in an office environment with people around and two large monitors in front of me. I’m working on learning how to do the same kind of work alone and from a laptop with a single screen.

As a musician, I am working not at all, but I’ve found there is an upside to that. I play bass in the bands I mentioned earlier, and I’ve been playing the same songs on the same bass for 20 years. I don’t mean that in a cynical way—these bands have a great repertoire. But during sequester, I’ve taken to getting out the guitar and playing Beatles songs. I find I’m a better guitar player now than I was 50 years ago. I also still play ukulele. I still love Hawai’ian music.

What are you most afraid of?
I think for a lot of us, the most immediate fear is the personal health and safety of us and our loved ones. I don’t harbor any illusions that this could not strike any one of us at any age. I’m worried for myself. I’m worried for Karen, my partner. I’m worried for my son. Mostly I’m worried for my 91-year-old mother. She lives alone in Illinois and is able to function well. Her primary concern at this time is making it to the store once a week to get cat food for her cat. I call her every day. She’s in the age group that this is known to be most dangerous for, but because of her living situation she is able to stay away from major hazards.

Second biggest fear: I’m afraid of how social things have been broken. Live music and dancing is a wonderful thing. That may not come back the same way. My band mates and I will play again, but part of our gigs are summer park concerts and swing dances. Whether those come back or not, I don’t know.

This is an unusual virus and I’m also afraid that we may have only seen the beginning of the epidemic. Some states want to try to reopen some businesses, but I see good reason to stay the hell away, stay home, stay safe, and to keep our hands washed for months to come. The only recent precedent for anything like this is over 100 years ago. Something like a third of the world caught the Spanish flu in 1918. The death rate was staggering. If what we experience in the coming months is anything like that, it will be truly horrific. My fear is that this will be like that—that it will be longer and worse than we really anticipate now.

What are you most hopeful for?
I mentioned earlier how this has made our world shrink. I think our world shrinking in this way has prompted us to focus on what’s important. Being with someone all the time makes you focus on that relationship. It makes you take care of each other and learn what the other person needs. We find out what we miss and what we won’t miss.

In that sense, I hope we can all use this to redesign our lives to focus on what’s important. My hope is that we’re able to use this to improve our lives by shedding things that are less important to us, and nurturing the things that are more important. I hope we learn to take of each other in a local way.

What has been the most challenging part of this experience for you?
Not seeing my son, Sam, who is a senior in high school. I’m in the habit of going up to visit him every two or three weeks. I have not done that since his birthday in early March. Of course we talk on the phone, but that’s just not the same as being there in person. I’m sad I won’t get to be there for the end of his senior year.

Not playing music for live events is also difficult. 

Is there anything—even a tiny thing—you enjoy or like about sheltering in place?
Yes, I’ve found things to like about the shrunken life, like home cooking, gardening, pets, and home music.

What do you think society as a whole will learn from this experience?
I hope we learn something.

I think all of us are learning things, but I think we will bring our own baggage to what we will learn.

How are you coping with stress/taking care of yourself?
Nature is my refuge. I don’t have a home gym, so I get out and hike in Rock Creek Park, in Sligo Creek Park, and other areas.

I also take charm in animals. I saw a story on my news feed about a fellow in Pennsylvania who builds picnic tables for squirrels because he enjoys watching the squirrels eat. I saw a picture of the tables and I thought, “I could do that.” So I’ve been building these little picnic tables and installing them around fences and railings.
When future generations ask, what will you tell them about this time in your life?
I don’t have the best answer because I feel like we’re still in it and its still playing out. I will say, I think this will be a cultural turning point. I think we’ll all have stories about how we survived it and how we all found out about what was important.  

What would you like your friends and neighbors in Silver Spring/Montgomery County to know?
To the ones I haven’t seen in person: I miss them. I think of people. I want them to stay safe and figure out what the important things are in their lives and to nurture those things.

Jonna Huseman is a family photographer who serves Silver Spring and beyond. During the COVID-19 crisis, she is using her free time to document the lives of friends and neighbors living through the pandemic.

Author’s note: Over the coming days and weeks I am documenting the lives of dozens of members of the Silver Spring and Takoma Park community. My goal is to talk to teachers and students, religious leaders, small business owners, frontline workers, parents, elected leaders, and private citizens. I want to learn about our collective hopes and dreams, our biggest challenges, and our greatest triumphs. Mostly, I want to build connection and create community at a time when we need it the most. If you live or work in Silver Spring or Takoma Park and are interested in having your life documented at this time—or know someone who has a unique experience and is willing to share—please contact me. To all those who have made this project possible, including Source of the Spring, I thank you for your time and generosity. To the neighbors who will respond in the future, I look forward to getting to know you. And to everyone reading—stay healthy and safe. We will make it through.

Mike Diegel