Cara McDonough has summered in Southport since she was a teenager, and kept a blog since her 20s. Motherhood left Cara with less time for personal writing, but COVID-19 has offered space for her to write more frequently.

“Other people keep journals or write in diaries, but for me it’s always more meaningful to have the words connect to somebody,” she says. “Something will happen and I can already feel myself writing about it in my head.”  Such is the urgency of the moment.

Cara has a knack for observing the meaningful in the everyday. What might pass others by, she zeroes in on, extracting significance from the seemingly mundane. She renders the incidental large, and captures our changing world in small domestic  details.

In it all, Cara offers an affirmation—we see ourselves woven into a larger fabric, transcending the isolation of the moment.

Cara posted Dear Pandemic Diary on her blog in June. The below is an edited version of that longer essay.

I keep urgently telling my children that we’re “living through history.” Yet it feels like the methods we are employing to make this period of history work are less poignant than what happened during other historic periods we all read about in school. 

I’m shouting about how this is “once in a lifetime” while they’re watching me put the computer on top of the pasta pot on the kitchen range so they can watch a slideshow from their school principal while they eat their breakfast. I’m trying with all my physical might to stifle a sneeze at the post office—because what will people think!?—and sighing wistfully about last summer, when sneezes were mere happenstance. I’m emptying the dishwasher for around the 300th time in a day, and my 11-year-old daughter is looking at me like, “Ok, mom, this does seem like a super important time,” and rolling her eyes.

But the stories worth recording aren’t always the obvious ones.

I keep thinking about how doing the right thing is often adopting small, deliberate actions as part of your daily life, for as long as that’s useful. That major shifts are often built from minor adjustments.

Take, for instance, the mundane, constant, reflexive giving of space. An action now taken regularly by many of us, and, to me, one of the most notable and endearing.

Stepping off the sidewalk and arcing in a semi-circle when I see an oncoming neighbor during a walk or run, allowing them to remain safe six feet or preferably more from where my feet land. The sidestep in the grocery store and awkward smile behind our masks. The excited approach when I see someone I know, but before the hug—now a seeming relic—we stop two arms lengths away. A new symbol of affection.

This small but consistent measure seems so minor in the grand scheme of this impossible situation. But we do it again and again, and in that repetition, I am told, there is critical effect. We do it over and over, and what happens is it works.

Cara McDonough is a professional freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications including The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Boothbay Register. Her personal writing can be found on her blog, caramcduna.