Quarantine Reflections

Years from now, when we’re squeezed hip-to-hip into a stadium somewhere, or we’re side-shouldering our way through a party, or jammed into a vestibule waiting to be seated at a noisy restaurant, these past few months will be little more than a gauzy, annoying tic in our collective minds, to be brushed away and left to rot in the forgetfulness of old age.

Wiping out the pain of what we’re going through as we battle the coronavirus — the social distancing, the sheltering in place, the isolation, the simple unnaturalness of it all — certainly would be understandable. But we should remember that if you’re safe, if your loved ones are safe, if you and yours can hang on financially until things start to turn around (a lot of ifs, I know, but we all hope, right?), the past months have not been an absolute loss.

We’ve never seen weirder times, true. Or maybe more stressful. But we will have things to remember. Some may even be good.

Gasoline is down to $1.69 a gallon or thereabouts, last I looked. Nobody is driving, crude oil is cheaper than the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s, and Big Oil is nervous. Some see this as the beginning of the end of our fossil-fuel dependence. They’re expecting a surge in green energy investment once investors turn brave again. Wouldn’t that be something?

Not coincidentally, the air is cleaner outside. There’s no mistaking it. During a three-week lockdown in April, some cities in the world saw a 60 percent reduction in air pollutants. It probably wasn’t quite that drastic in Atlanta. But with its world-class traffic suddenly vanished, you can taste that the air around here is better than it has been in a long time.

Our dishwasher is as full as an oil tank in Texas these days. It’s a byproduct of eating in for just about every meal. Which, though I love eating out, isn’t all that bad. We used to go through one or two dishwasher loads a week, but now, it’s like five or six. The food barely has a chance to crust over on the plates into something unrecognizable before we have to fire the thing up. We’re using more dish detergent than gas. Again: Weird.

As full as the dishwasher is (and those storage tanks), our hamper is just the opposite. Makes sense, of course. I think nothing of wearing the same pair of shorts “to” work five days in a row. And I can’t justify chucking a t-shirt into the bin if all it’s done is sit on my temperature-controlled body for a few hours each day. I feel like I need to spill something on me once in a while just to give the washing machine something to do.

As happens a lot in national emergencies, it’s heartening to see people pull together. Whether it’s to give much-needed props to health care professionals and other in-danger workers — the millions of fast food and grocery store employees that can’t isolate because they have to earn a buck — or to thank teachers (and students) for hanging in there during the most screwed-up end to a school year ever, people, generally, understand that we’re all in this together. It’s getting a little hairy now after 10 weeks; the shut-ins (me included … everyone included) are getting restless. The whole idea of re-opening — when to do it, how to do it — has been, like everything else in 2020 America, politicized until it hurts. Angry conservatives want to go back to business-as-usual right now (“My rights are being violated!”) while snowflake liberals want to hide until the virus is vanquished (“My rights are being violated!”). On the whole, though, I like to think that most people are respecting others. Not sure how long that will last, though.

Families and friends are re-connecting. I had a video chat with my brothers and sister in April, the first time we’ve seen each other’s faces in the same place (if only on a computer screen) in 20 years. Last week, a few friends of mine from college pulled together a video meet. We’re planning another one. Mary Jo calls her parents on the phone every day and talks to them on their relatively new iPad, via Skype, often. Her dad chats over the internet regularly with his brother in Italy, face to face. That’s something that didn’t happen before we were ordered to stay put. In the weirdest times of our lives, it’s been great to catch up, and stay in touch.

You do learn to appreciate the little things. A fiercely blue sky on a pure spring day. An uncluttered neighborhood with a wide street for walking. A quiet conversation with an understanding wife. Getting lost in a TV show. Seeing the boy. A good sweat. A trusty, or relatively so, canine companion (^ top of post, with Mary Jo). Health. Humor. Clean carpets. Spellcheck. A callback.

This is a difficult time for a lot of people. I know it. We all do. It’s scary for everyone. That future that we hope for, that we’re counting on, may still be too distant yet to grasp.

But even in these weirder-than-weird times, I see that I have a lot to appreciate. I hope I’m lucky enough to remember that when the good times return.

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