No place like home: Living and loving in the time of COVID-19
By John Howard Weeks
Here’s good news, if you’ve ever dreamed of taking a break from everyday life and catching up with some of the other things you’d like to do.
That dream has come true.
The new coronavirus pandemic has abruptly pulled the plug on the dizzying merry-go-round of our normal routine. It has waved the checkered flag on the rat race we’ve been running. It has ground to a halt the hamster wheel we were on, and booted us out of the cage.
Of course, now we’re in another cage. We’re sequestered in our individual homes. We’ve been ordered to isolate ourselves and shelter in place.
But hold on. Isn’t home where we’ve always imagined we’d like to be when we got that chance to catch up on those other things we’d like to do? Yes, of course.
Think of the possibilities.
First things first
Wait, the very first thing we must do, without a doubt, is to extend our prayers and best wishes to those who actually are suffering now from the physical effects of COVID-19. Maybe we should extend more than wishes and prayers. Maybe donations of money, of supplies, of time, or services, too. Right?
OK, then. With that good work done, what’s next?
It will be fun to try new things. Moms and dads and kids can come together and learn new things about each other by swapping roles as an occasional or regular exercise.
For example, the kids can make dinner one night a week. Or maybe two or three nights, if they do a good job. Dad can vacuum the carpets while mom replaces batteries in all the smoke alarms. Mom can mow the lawn while dad scrubs the toilets. The kids can take pictures of all this.
When it’s time for sleep, the kids can read bedtime stories to mom and dad. Hopefully, the kids will not choose stories that are too scary. (Warning: Most children’s stories are very frightening.)
Once upon a time there was no internet, no video games, no handhelds or ear buds, or even television or radio, if you go back far enough.
People in those primitive times loved to pass the hours playing board or card games. They waged epic battles of Monopoly or Sorry or Life or Checkers that lasted for days!
Remarkably enough, those games and others of their kind still exist today. Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Candyland, Operation, Old Maid, Parcheesi, Backgammon … the list is almost endless. If you don’t already have some of them gathering dust in a trunk or closet somewhere, they all are available online, spanking new, for home delivery.
Remember Christmas, just few months ago? Doesn’t it seem like that was our last joyous time of life, in light of recent events?
(Well, yes, there was the Super Bowl, but that was bittersweet, given that California’s team lost to some little-known midwestern team. Kansas City or wherever.)
Good news. There’s a way of recapturing some of the glory of the yuletide season and no, we are not talking about putting your Christmas tree back up, though nobody would blame you if you did.
Rather, we are talking about the jolly tradition of sending Christmas cards or letters to your loved ones and friends.
And see here. You have time on your hands right now. You have stationery and envelopes and stamps. Or maybe you have text messaging. Not very traditional, but it will do.
Write an account of how you’re doing, how you’re coping during this challenging season. Send it around. You might start something. Your recipients will love hearing from you, except perhaps for those particular few ones who think Christmas letters are a plague.
Ah, but even they should grudgingly admit that plague letters are appropriately suited to the present occasion.
Yes, yes, we all have heard that this is a great time for binge watching all those epic TV series and movie franchises that you’ve wanted to catch up on. So, do that. But then, there’s something else you can do: You can binge watch books.
It’s called reading. People used to do it all the time. They enjoyed it.
Here’s your chance to share in the thrill of diving into a thousand-page tome and staying there until you’ve finished it. You will discover that these books give your brain and imagination a robust workout that TV shows and movies and video games cannot ever possibly match.
If you don’t already have some ponderous volume or two in your home, employed as a door stopper, you can order any number you want from online book sources.
Amazon comes to mind. Heaven knows they are completely out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so their still bulging aisles of books might be worth a look.
As suggestions on how you might get started, here are three heavyweights that tell stories of great scourges upon the land, and of titanic struggles between good and evil, quite topical in our present day: “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Stand” by Stephen King and “Wanderers” by Chuck Wendig.
Hey, it’s spring, which means it’s time for spring cleaning. And we are presented this year with time and opportunity to spring clean like we’ve never spring cleaned before. What fun!
Everyone in the family can take part. For example, each person, each day, can choose a window and scrub and polish it until it shines. Then comes the oohing and ahhing as everyone admires the work of everyone else. Next day, the job is repeated, one window per person, and the next day the same, until every window in the house gleams.
Then, everyone moves on to the kitchen and bathroom drawers. Each person chooses a drawer, clears it out and separates the contents into “save” and “discard” piles. Then, when everyone is done, they all gather to appraise the work of everyone else and hold a vote on what stays and what goes.
When all the drawers are done, everyone pitches in on cupboard shelves, one per person per day.
Then there are closets to be tackled, straightened and voted upon.
Then, there’s the garage.
Yes, the garage.
This is the best spring cleaning ever!
The great outdoors
Have you looked outside?
Nature is abounding. The trees are leafing. The flowers are budding. The birds are singing. The squirrels are scurrying. Even the lizards are waking up and zipping about.
It is only us poor humans who are lagging and languishing. We are the only ones who are tucked in and tuckered out.
But it is only for a while. We know our springing forth is not cancelled, but only delayed. We will rouse. We will rise. We will get ready and gear up. We will get in line, we will move forward, boisterously, to rejoin the wonderful pageant of life.
Here are some specific ideas for outdoor activities that will keep us connected to the beautiful world out there:
Be a sport
This was going to be such a great year. We were going to watch our Dodgers win their first World Series title in more than 30 years. We were going to go crazy watching college basketball’s March Madness games. The Lakers and Clippers were thrilling to watch. Mostly.
We were going to see Tiger Woods win another Masters. We were going to gorge our eyeballs on the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Alas, all of that has been either called off or pushed back.
So, it’s up to us to get out there and take up the slack. It’s time for mom to show what she can do shooting hoops in the driveway. It’s time for dad and Junior to show off their stuff in a fastball round of backyard catch. It’s time for Missy to go out with her sand wedge and a few Wiffle golf balls and work on her short game. And let’s all gather to watch Pluto the dog try out for the Frisbee Olympics.
Weed ’em and reap
This is a great spring to plant a garden. Berries, vegetables, greens. It’s a good idea for so many reasons. You’ll enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. You’ll benefit from the exercise.
And, depending on how long this pandemic lasts, you might need the food.
It’s tool time
Think of all the outdoor projects you always wished you had time to tackle.
Get out that hedge trimmer and turn that pyracantha bush into a topiary swan. No, a dolphin. No, a unicorn!
Paint that back fence, finally!
Convert that corner of the yard into a rock garden. Lay that curvy path of flagstones between the house and garage.
Grab those carpentry tools and build a doghouse.
If you don’t have a dog, build a birdhouse. You have plenty of birds. Everybody has birds. Everywhere.
Look at all we’ve accomplished during this troubled time. The house is spic ’n’ span, the garage is organized, the yard is beautified, a garden has been planted, we’ve written and reached out to all our loved ones and friends, we’ve improved our minds with good books, and strengthened our bodies with good physical activities, and entertained ourselves with constructive games, and grown closer as a family with positive role playing activities.
This pandemic has just whizzed by!
Soon, we hope, when it’s all over, and said and done, we will be up and ready to return to our ordinary lives. Yes, it will be back to the grindstone for us. Back to the rat race. Back to the cage. Back to that hamster wheel …
John Howard Weeks is a retired longtime newspaper columnist and the author of seven books including the recent “The Healthiest People on Earth.” That book is featured in a new two-minute video titled “The 100-Year-Old Man Reads a Health Book,” viewable on YouTube.
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the spring 2020 issue of Redlands Magazine.