In an alternate universe, I might be blogging about something else right now. Something mildly interesting or mildly annoying, depending on my mood. A street performer I biked past at Leicester Square today, entertaining a large throng of happy tourists in Union Jack T-shirts. A dog that fouled the sidewalk by our front door, and a dog owner who doesn’t much care. A life caught up in the usual rhythm, with our kids at school and Susan at work and the house empty save for a single soul. I might be blogging about crowded pubs, or last night’s jazz show, or our vacation plans when the summer school break arrives.
I probably wouldn’t be blogging about the gifts you get when you least expect them, and the way you need to tuck those gifts away and not let on that you see them even though they’re right in front of you.
More on that later.
In an alternate universe, I wouldn’t stare at the computer and see the strangest things staring back at me. The grim and varied headlines. A few dozen deaths here, a couple hundred more there, the latest worldwide body count pushing above 250,000. Dour-looking scientists and politicians explaining terms like “flattening the curve,” or mapping out the proper way to wash your hands. A mob of angry humanoids bearing guns in a state capital somewhere, raging about the tyranny of not being able to go to Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch today.
The plight of being a bus driver whose life is threatened every time a sick passenger coughs. Nearly 30 UK bus drivers dying of the same disease in just a few weeks. Or, a nurse on that same bus, wondering whether those 12-hour shifts at the hospital will be her doom.
A lone violinist on a hospital rooftop in Italy, playing for health care workers.
Wild animals taking to the streets in India or Argentina, no longer worried about the two-legged creatures who no longer come out at night.
Decomposing bodies lying in trucks in Brooklyn because there’s no place to store or bury them.
A security guard killed for insisting that a customer wear a face mask, per the rules. Just doing his job. There, then gone.
In an alternate universe, none of this is happening. Instead, John Prine is singing “Sam Stone” in a little theater in the Midwest. Baseball season is in full swing, and the St. Louis Cardinals have stormed to a 32-2 record (yes, they have). In a month or so we’ll catch those same Cardinals playing the Cubs at West Ham Stadium as part of the London MLB Series, because I bought tickets months ago as soon as they came available (yes, I did). The series hasn’t been canceled because of a deadly virus.
In an alternate universe, health care workers aren’t killing themselves, and government leaders aren’t judging just how many human lives they’re willing to trade for the freedom to shop at malls and dine at restaurants. Small businesses aren’t collapsing by the hundreds, and the global economy isn’t having a nervous breakdown.
In an alternate universe, I don’t have the moral dilemma of considering the gifts a lockdown brings even as others around the world suffer and mourn. I don’t think about our two daughters being here round the clock, home schooling, confined to a world that includes their house, back yard and nothing else.
And then thinking this: It’s a lucky break, them being here. It’s a gift wrapped in a tragedy. Because you are an older Dad – past the half-century mark when the oldest was born – and that clock is ticking ticking ticking. Your time with them is limited. Each minute becomes an hour and each hour a day. You look at them sometimes, full of youth, playing and laughing, and you try to freeze it there – right there. Make the moment hang in the air, suspended. Devote it to memory. Lock it in place.
Because you don’t really have the luxury of gazing ahead and recapturing that same image 30 years hence, looking at them as adults and seeing them as children, maybe with their own kids in tow, and maybe it’s Christmas and everyone is sitting around the tree trading presents and laughs. You can’t count on that memory. You have to soak up the ones right in front of you.
So I’m here in this universe, the one locked down in a global pandemic. And our daughters are here with us, round the clock, not in school or anywhere else. They can stay up a little later because the home school day starts a little later than the normal school day. You have to go over their schoolwork with them after lunch and explain why this answer should be that one. You plant yourself in the backyard and watch as they shoot baskets during morning recess, making sure they extend their arms and follow through.
And every minute counts. And every minute is a gift.