Musings + Essays

It Begins with a Prayer.

By: Jen Shoop

I spent 22 days inside my Manhattan apartment when I contracted coronavirus earlier this year. 22 days in under 2,000 square feet, and a subset of those days within the four walls of my bedroom. 22 days without sunshine or fresh air or the damp smell of the onset of rain or the feel of my sixty-pound airedale straining against her leash in pursuit of a phantom rodent that routinely haunts her on a particular stretch of W 84th street. I remember plastering my forehead to the window of our kitchen, angling my neck to take in the skyline, to watch the stray Manhattanites enjoying sun and afternoon reading or candlelight and al fresco dinners from the lovely balconies of the brownstones our building overlooks. To be honest, I was too sick or too worried to give much thought to the sensation of captivity at the time. The confinement was ancillary to much graver anxieties. But I think back now and wonder how we did it–“we” being Mr. Magpie and myself, as he carried more than half of the emotional burden of that period of my life, and nearly all of the responsibilities of parenting and running a household, and he did it while maintaining a full-time job and a sense of humor and the laidback way he flips a cap off a beer bottle in the evening, marking the end of the work day and the start of a more relaxing string of hours.

Oh, to have him–his sturdiness, his confidence, his extremely even keel–

I cannot think how I would have fared without him.

This, of course, was half the strain of that time (write it, Jen): the haunting vision I angrily brushed away as I fought the virus of me absent from my own life, or he absent from whatever shape my life might take in the world beyond.

To be clear, I had what I think would be considered a mild to moderate case. I did not receive treatment and did not go to the hospital. My doctor advised rest and fluids. But I was the sickest I have ever been in my life, and we knew so little about the virus in late March that I had no idea whether I was improving or not. Even though I was no longer wracked with body aches that made me feel as though I was being passed through a pasta machine, I lost my sense of smell and taste about a week into my symptoms–what was this? When would it end?! A well-meaning friend of ours, in a conversation after I had recovered, said: “I’ve heard it’s not too bad for most people. Like a mild flu or something.” He said it optimistically, I think — hoping that I would concur. I think that Mr. Magpie could see that I was having trouble finding words, my mouth partway open, groping for the right ones, because he said, affably, lightly:

“She was pretty banged up.”

And then changed the conversation.

It was around Easter that Mr. Magpie turned on the movie 1917. Until that point, I had avoided anything remotely emotional or intense in the entertainment category. I don’t even remember what scene we were watching, but I suddenly felt waves of unexpected and violent emotion washing over me, and I near-shouted —

“I can’t watch this!”

Mr. Magpie looked bewildered at first, and then turned off the TV and tilted his head and pleaded, quietly, for me to tell him what was wrong.

And it came out like a long cry.

And then, just as urgently, I had to say all the things I had felt when I was sick and that I had been scared to admit out loud, and that even now I cannot commit to paper (write it, Jen, I tell myself, but I have written them and then woken up in a cold sweat and deleted them — I cannot put them out yet, cannot commit to them, cannot relive them in published form). I told him even the foolish things, like my single-minded fixation on the nightmarish logistics of going to the hospital by myself if I needed to. (Would I take a cab? How would I make it through filling out the admission paperwork without dissolving into a puddle all by myself?)

He sat with me, and let me cry into his shirt, and I don’t think I will ever be able to finish the movie 1917 because it is positively riddled with all the feelings that tumbled out that night in our apartment.

For many weeks after I had recovered, treading the trim perimeter of my nightly walk with Tilly, I was lit up with gratitude. For the fresh air, for the sights of the city, even for Tilly’s irritating strain against the leash in search of those phantom (or not phantom, come to think of it…) rodents. Just before my first walk after confinement, Mr. Magpie sat me down and made me promise to look both ways before crossing the street. “Take it slow, Jennifer,” he said, the formality of my full name on his tongue jarring. And I knew what he meant: that I would be overwhelmed that first walk. And I was. The city felt enormous, and the same and not the same, and loud, and I was ecstatic and farklempt to be on the errand.

Time has softened the crispness of those emotions and I now need to remind myself to be grateful for my nightly stroll from time to time. And so it caught me off guard when my father said, just the other day: “I don’t know how you did it in that small apartment. I don’t know how you’re still doing it in that small apartment.” As we are still, for all intents and purposes, living in quarantine: ordering all groceries and wine and — well, everything — in, staying inside most of the time, not interacting with anyone outside the immediate family except for our nanny, my brother-in-law, and my sister. Mr. Magpie and I went out for a glass of wine once two or three weeks ago, and even that was a tedious and possibly-not-worth-it exercise in risk mitigation: we stopped by five or six potential watering holes before finding one with suitably spaced tables. While not ideal, like all of you, we’ve adapted to these conditions. We know, having both fought the virus in our own apartment, and having lived in New York in March and April of 2020, just what is at stake, and it is worth the inconvenience and slender grief we carry with us. But when my father said: “I don’t know how you did it,” I thought back to those 22 days of confinement, and I shuddered.

But I do know how we did it, and it begins with a prayer and ends with Mr. Magpie’s casual toss of a bottle cap at five o’clock in the evening.

It is faith and love and the putting of one foot in front of another and the steely insistence on celebrating the most diminutive of joys with the man I love the most because they are always worth the fanfare.


This post is written specifically for a reader who was just diagnosed with coronavirus. M.O., I am thinking of you today.


Post Scripts.

+More on living through coronavirus and the two things that brought me the most comfort during that time.

+The gorgeous colored glassware from Estelle is now sold individually! Two coupes would be such a sweet gift for a newly engaged friend.

+The message of this children’s book sounds wonderful.

+An absolutely adorable $60 dress, and an equally adorable and far more expensive heart-print dress, too.

+This cashmere top is on sale — and so cute for fall!

+I also adore this striped sweater (on sale, too) with white jeans in early fall.

+Darling white nightgown for a little one. Like Clara from the Nutcracker!

+Currently, you can get 25% off your first order at Olivela, meaning you can score these Mansur Gavriel flats at a rare discount.

+Only two sizes left in this sweet fall floral dress for a little one (ordered it already for mini). More adorable little girl finds here.

+In case you are running dry with toddler activities/distractions at this point and are heading into a year of distance learning / homeschooling, people rave about indoor trampolines as a way to help children burn off their energy and this one can be stowed with relative ease.

+Clever tool for children learning the upper case / lower case letters.

+This stomp rocket was a smash hit with mini (who is 3.5).

+This is a great bowl for, well, everything. I have a bunch of these and I find I reach for them constantly. Perfect size for soup, cereal, ice cream, or just mixing up the small portions of peas or pasta or rice that I prepare for the children at dinner time.

+Vans are not my style, but OMG these itty bitty ones on micro might have to happen.

+Chic fall finds.

+Delicious drama for $29.

+Grateful to Marlien Rentmeester for introducing me to the incredible Etsy vintage shop Fenix Vintage, full of fun finds like this embroidered floral midi and this outrageously fun blouse and this blue caftan, which reminds me a bit of my beloved Frances Valentine maxi.

+I do not need another white dress but ohhh mannnn I keep coming back to this perfect style from La Ligne.

+High end looks for less.

+Home finds from Target.

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16 thoughts on “It Begins with a Prayer.

  1. Whoa! 18 months later and what a heart splitting account. Your writing and beautiful love is what I aspire to. I hope you remember if nothing else, the tenderness, of that moment xoxo

  2. As always, your writing is so eloquent and always touches my heart. I am very sorry for what you went through but also happy that you came out well on the other side. Please never stop writing,. I look so forward to your blog posts each morning …espec. now during this challenging time. Hugs.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy, especially for the encouragement to keep writing. So happy to have you here, reading along. xx

  3. Gave me chills. Love to you and your reader with the scary diagnosis and everyone who was in NYC in March and April (I was in Brooklyn then and I am lucky I never got the virus and also— phew—what a time) and everyone navigating back to school and, you know what, love to everyone. What a year. I know it doesn’t seem like we are on some days, but, against all odds, we are doing it. Xoxo.

    1. Thank you, Joyce — I completely agree: “we are, against all odds, doing it.” Go us! One foot in front of the other…


  4. I was secretly hoping you’d write about your covid experience, and it was just as beautiful as I expected. Also, anyone who says something is “mild, like the flu,” has clearly never had the actual flu!! It’s a brutal illness! I was lucky that my covid case was, in fact, very mild- like a bad cold more than anything else- but it was a scary thing to face alone and I will carry memories of it for a long time. On the bright side, at least we now have antibodies, which will likely provide some level of protection moving forward. I know that having that positive antibody test has allowed me to release a lot of anxiety and move through my daily NYC life with a lot less fear (while still taking the necessary precautions, of course.)

    1. Hi Anna – Oh thank you so much for the words – I was thinking also of you when I wrote this and wondering how our experiences stacked up. Regardless of the severity of your case, I am sure you went through all the same sensations of confusion, guilt, panic, etc that I did. The guilt in particular — I didn’t touch on it much because it still engenders a pit the size of Texas in my stomach when I think about it. Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience, too. xx

  5. I also wept when reading this beautiful post. I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through, and what M.O. is going through now. Thank you for writing about it so eloquently. I’ll be praying for continued healing.


  6. Oh wow. The collective grief related to COVID reminds me of 9/11: when everyone in NY either lost someone or knew someone who lost someone that day. And yet that did not make the personal grief any easier (different, yes, but not easier).

    I just want to thank you for sharing your “personal grief”. It’s not easy to do and yet you’ve articulated it so well, once again leaving me with a lump in my throat! For some reason, Mr. Magpie’s response to your friend “she was pretty banged up”, has me on the verge of tears.

    Sending some virtual hugs and prayers for recovery for the Magpie reader to whom this is dedicated and some prayers of gratitude that you made it through this nasty, nasty virus. XOXO

    1. Hi Molly – Thank you for the prayers and hugs for M.O. (just chatted with her over DM and she’s hanging tough!) and for the ones in my direction, too. You and my other Magpie readers have been such a sunny spot and support for me the last few months. Hoping I can return the favor in some way.


  7. This post has made me a bit weepy, though it doesn’t generally take much. I feel a lot of feelings but I’m not sure that I can put them into eloquent words like you have. So, I will say, I really loved this post and thank you for putting it into the world – specifically, I appreciate your vulnerability. I think that be ability to be vulnerable, in writing or speech or what-have-you, is one to admire and you do it so well.

    1. Thank you, JC. I cannot tell you how deeply satisfied it makes me when you and other Magpies write in to let me know that something has struck a chord. It makes me feel so connected to other women during this very confusing and isolating year, and it also makes me feel sane, and heard, and relieved. Thank you, friend. xx

  8. This was a beautiful post. I know exactly what you mean about avoiding heavy media – I would not watch anything sad and I couldn’t listen to music of any kind for months after my dad died. That turning away from facing the weight of the emotions is its own hardship. I hope that time will continue to heal. It’s good to own the enormity of the trauma and not minimize what it felt like emotionally – I believe that’s key in healing.

    1. Oh Emily – thank you for writing this. I am so sorry for the loss of your father, too; your conjuring of that sadness in your own life helped me put my much smaller travails in perspective. I am with you on the avoidance of all things heavy in the face of a strenuous time: it is almost as if you are at your emotional capacity and cannot take on even the slightest of additional freight.

      One foot in front of the other…


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