Back in March when America had open shopping malls and movie theaters and the opportunity to see them in person, the concept of staying home seemed not so onerous. (Aside from those of us who were clearly worried about toilet paper supplies). Spend more time with the family. Either get some time off the job or work in peace online. Maybe catch up on Netflix. That lasted maybe two days. Soon, members of our household realized that stay-in-place, however necessary to slow the spread of a contagion, could feel remarkably like home detention. The pandemic grew worse. Things got a little scarier. And we struggled to redefine our lives in the midst of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak and the economic morass that has followed.
The Jensen family would like to report it’s been all sunshine and roses and cartoon unicorns. It has not. But we have learned. And, after a month and a half of living this new reality, we have made some discoveries that can be passed down to future generations — assuming that stay-in-place orders are eventually lifted, there isn’t a return to them later this year or next, a vaccine is eventually discovered and tested, and, well, you know the drill. Here are the top five:
1. Be kind. Hey, this doesn’t come naturally to those of us who make a living writing opinions. But everything, and we mean everything, works better in a household that lives by this rule. And we are not just talking about being kind to those who live under the same roof, we try to be kind to neighbors, to colleagues, to those we encounter at the grocery store, to the postal carrier and on and on. Recently, we dispatched two cups of cake flour to a neighbor whose daughter wanted to recreate Berger cookies. The next day, samples of those cookies, chocolate frosting and all, were placed at our door.
Oh, we’ll admit there are challenging moments, such as when a certain occupant of the White House takes to the podium in the evenings to suggest that the country needs tests or, on another occasion, that it doesn’t need tests. Or when this same person claims coronavirus isn’t going to be a problem in the U.S. and then insists he always said it would be. Or when this nameless individual speculates that scientists should be studying injecting disinfectants or a “powerful” light into the body. Anyway, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
2. Don’t claim to know something you don’t. A lot of parents have found themselves at odds with their kids over school work. It hasn’t been easy. Whether it’s a lesson presented online or contained in a wad of papers, your children may have questions, perhaps simply how to run Zoom. The biggest mistake would be to pretend you remember high school calculus when you don’t or even how to diagram a sentence when you can’t quite recall the difference between a participle and a gerund. This rule applies to people who think the discovery that a virus reacts badly to sunlight, heat or disinfectant is groundbreaking stuff. They ought to leave that to medical professionals. (This was made especially clear by the medical professional living in our home who is prone to yelling at the TV set at exactly these moments at a pitch that alerts the deer grazing about a mile away).
3. Look out for others. It has been touching to see gifts left at the doorstep (like those cookies we received), people loaning out books and games to bored neighbors and stuffed animals peering out windows to entertain passersby. The local community bulletin board alerts us when a toilet paper roll shows up in a nearby market. Here’s a gift we can present back to readers: Don’t watch the evening coronavirus task force news conferences on television, unless you really, really have to watch them — or enjoy watching doctors cringe. (No, seriously, check out the video that captures Dr. Deborah Birx’s facial expression when that disinfectant idea was presented. Priceless).
4. Take care of yourself. Socially distanced neighborhood walks are essential. So is eating a balanced diet even when snacks are tempting. Taking a little mental health break is probably a good idea, too. Oh, and here’s a tip: Don’t eat the Lysol. Even the makers of disinfectants think ingesting their product is a bad idea.
5. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, be grateful and appreciate the little things. Before the pandemic, how many of us really gave much thought to our own mortality? To life’s purpose? To what we hold dear? It’s easy to get wrapped up in distractions. Sometimes, a little change of pace is good for clearing out the cobwebs and sharing more time with your college student son, who, I can faithfully attest, is really, really sick of his parents. And, of course, we can all be glad that the individual we are not naming (because it might violate Lessons 1 and 4 and possibly 5) is not our personal physician prescribing hydroxychloroquine or maybe a flashlight “under the skin” because he’s just tired of catching grief for a pandemic he hasn’t handled especially well. Surely, we can all be glad about that.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Peter Jensen is a longtime editorial writer at the Baltimore Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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