Making this time count for something

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 25. I was probably at work, sending emails, working on a grant, or maybe helping to put the final touches on an upcoming bowl-a-thon fundraising event.

It was just another Tuesday morning. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet nothing terribly memorable either.

We do know what Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the top expert on viral respiratory diseases for the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), was doing on that morning. She was speaking at a media teleconference sharing what she had told her husband and kids earlier that morning over breakfast as it related to the coronavirus outbreak and its spread in the United States. She said, “We, as a family, need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives.”

Boy, was she spot on or what?

Fast forward fifteen days and that’s when the disruption got real for me. The night of March 11 was just another Wednesday evening for me. I had worked that day and was relaxing in bed, alternating between flipping channels and perusing social media on my phone when the dominos started falling.

It started at 9 o’clock sharp when President Trump took to the airwaves to address the nation regarding the pandemic. He dropped a bombshell saying that he was suspending all air travel from Europe in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Six minutes later, it was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had both tested positive for the coronavirus while spending time in Australia. Twenty-one minutes after that, it was reported that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the NBA’s first positive case. Four minutes after that, the NBA suspended the remainder of their season.

Things got real. And fast. Big money sporting events went from business as usual to talk of games being closed to fans to outright canceling games and seasons. All in a matter of hours.

This was just the beginning of the disruption that Dr. Nancy Messonnier had spoken of weeks earlier.

Syndicated editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey recently posted on his blog a list of 30 things he’s observed about the virus and the world we now find ourselves in. One of those observations talks about the loss we are all experiencing.

He says, “Everyone has lost something: A job, a prom, a graduation, a loved-one, a paycheck — No matter what level of seriousness you think it is, it is devastating to them.”

And he’s right. Sure, we’ve all lost something. Every single one of us. But among the wreckage, what have you gained?

For many people, that may not be an easy question to answer. It’s not easy to willingly look for beauty amidst the pain.

For me, I’ve gained more quality time with my 17-year-old son who lives an hour and a half from me. Between the daily demands of high school and a weekend part-time job, life had made it hard for him to come visit on a regular basis.

But when your school and job obligations go away in essence overnight, it doesn’t matter where you lay your head at night. Online schooling has allowed him to spend more time with me under my roof.

We’ve eaten meals together. We’ve tackled home projects together. We’ve sat outside on the patio together.

In normal times, this wouldn’t be possible. How would I ever get this time back? I wouldn’t – not at this stage in his life. I’m looking at this state of disruption as an opportunity to make these days count.

I’m not the only one making these days count. I’ve seen fathers teaching young daughters how to cut the grass. I’ve seen mothers teaching the joy of gardening to kids of all ages.

Friends are choosing to pick up the phone to call friends they haven’t spoken to in years. Why text when you have actual time to talk.

Neighbors are checking in on neighbors, offering to pick up extra items at the grocery store to save them a trip.

Life looks a lot different than it did back on that uneventful last Tuesday in February. In many cases, it feels a lot harder.

So now we are all trying to make this time count for something. After all, we don’t have much of a choice.

This might not be the disruption we asked for, or yet, even wanted. Instead it may be the one we all needed – the one that would wake us up from our overly busy, over-the-top, going through the motions-type of lives we were all living pre-pandemic.

Just maybe we needed something to wake us up and force us to make the days count again – something to make us live as if it were our last Tuesday on the planet instead of it being just another Tuesday on the planet.

Columnist Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 crisis. Look for another installment of his “Life In Quarantine” series soon.