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No silver bullets, just silver linings | Chuck's World

Series: Coronavirus | Story 164

Last updated 8/3/2020 at 1:04pm

Whatever this is, I've been doing it for five months now.

And so have you, obviously. While the "same storm, different boats" concept is also obvious, five months is enough time for all of us to recognize that it's a mess outside.

And I had a little head's up. The first official death from COVID-19 in the U.S. was here in Washington on Feb. 28, and the next day I was at church. It wasn't a reaction to the news; it was just a Sunday. That's what I used to do on Sundays.

The first unusual thing that happened was that my phone rang. I rarely get phone calls anymore, or call anyone, so it's become a little alarming when it happens. And it was my daughter – it got my attention.

She was just passing along concern from a high school friend, now on the front lines of our regional health-care system. She wasn't panicking, just relaying information and some concern for our welfare. Please make a Costco run, she asked. And stay inside. Something was coming.

We needed groceries anyway, and I never say no to a hot dog or a rotisserie chicken. We stayed at church, listening to a long opening address by the senior pastor, with tentative plans to do a deep clean of the building, have lots of sanitizer stations, etc.

It seems quaint now, these hopeful plans. I loved seeing these people and being in that place every week, and I now look at it as a death trap.

Afterward, we headed for the store, along with a bunch of other Sunday shoppers. There was no toilet paper or bottled water, we were told. A few folks were wearing masks. The hot dog was good.

We did some social things the next week, already on the schedule, and it was weird and not fun at all. I had already been making comments to friends and family in other parts of the country about our disappearing traffic. I began suggesting that they pay attention.

The university where my wife teaches sent everyone home five days later. There was one more sparse worship service at church, and then the doors were closed. Our lives became radically different, and now it's been five months.

Our boat is fine. Some leaks are coming, surely, but we were fortunate. We just got busier, actually, transitioning to this virtual world of distance learning and Zoom meetings.

I became a walking advertisement for COVID chic, my hair now uncut since 2019, my beard scraggly, my pajamas staying on all day.

This is all superficial change, though, mostly to amuse myself. I've been working from home since 1989, and I belong to an age cohort that is rapidly transitioning to retirement, or retirement-age careers. My life has been slowing down for a few years; the pandemic just did a little hastening.

I have no inside information, just observations, none of them particularly enlightened. I've been struck by the transparency induced by pressure; to paraphrase Maya Angelou, people are telling us who they are, and we should probably believe them.

This includes not only the ones who misbehave, who fight common sense, who want us to accept horrifying numbers in order to make a bottom line. It includes the heroes among us, and they are many – they keep our grocery stores stocked, they teach our children, they deliver our packages.

And they wear spacesuits and hold up iPads to the faces of our loved ones, dying alone save for health-care workers. The physicians and nurses and aides and techs going to work every day all need big raises when this is over.

I just don't think it will be over. I have hope from the latest vaccine news, remarkable and even unprecedented progress, but vaccines aren't magical beans, only science. My predisposition toward optimism lets me imagine getting back to normal, while relentless realism creeps into the picture.

I can't wait to go back to church again and see my friends. I have a strong sense that will never happen.

This is one of those situations when we talk about holding two conflicting ideas at the same time. I worry that the world is going to be drastically different from now on. I'm sort of looking forward to it.

Not the suffering. Not the isolation. Not the death, and grief, and pain. Those are already here, and aren't going anywhere soon.

But I have hope, and it mostly comes from a 6-year-old.

I have near-daily video chats with my grandson, 1,800 miles away. We began by reading books together, and now it's become a check-in, a quick conversation that is the highlight of my dull days. He's often bored, eager to log off, but at other times he's engaged and talkative.

There is no new normal for kids; life is always changing. I haven't come to visit since September, but that's a distant memory to a kindergartener. Grandpa is on a screen now. This is normal. We carry on.

"I'll be right back!" he said the other day, running out of the picture, returning a minute later. He wanted to show me a video game, and he had an idea.

The iPad went sideways for a second, and then I had a clear view of the game on his TV. His face reappeared on my screen.

"I got you a stool, Grandpa," he said, and for some reason that makes me think we're going to be OK.


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