Sunday morning was the first time I woke up unsure of what day it might be. Saturday, perhaps? Didn’t seem like Saturday. Then again, what does Saturday feel like anymore? Monday? Nah, it was too late in the day to be Monday — 9 a.m. is past my normal 8:30 a.m. weekday telephone meeting with one of my colleagues at Elon. So yeah, Sunday — it had to be Sunday.
It had to be. So I settled on that. Did it matter? Probably not. The date was another question entirely. I decided that was an issue that could be figured out later. Turns out it was April 5, 2020, week three of social distancing as COVID–19 began to truly encroach into North Carolina. Funny, it didn’t seem like April 5. But then again, it never really seemed like March either. And where did that month go?
I stopped working from my office at Elon University after March 19. Significant social distancing had begun the previous weekend. A lot of people at Elon started working from home on March 16. Students were told not to return after spring break and begin studies with their professors online. The place was basically deserted over my last four self-situated office days. A few hundred students were still around, but largely invisible. There were no more than four people in our building at one time on any of those days. March 20 was a holiday to celebrate the successful completion of our previous 10-year strategic plan, the Elon Commitment. The next strategic plan, Boldly Elon, was rolled out in February.
And then everything was put on hold. People who could work at home were told to go ahead and do so.
And that’s when I stopped shaving. Why not, there’s no place to go anyway.
I spent the first couple of weeks of the coronavirus pandemic exactly that way, in varying degrees of “who gives a shit.” It wasn’t a question. It was a state of mind. I kept up with the ever more alarming headlines online or in print. I avoided cable news altogether. The fact is, I avoided most things altogether. I’m actually good at it. Years of practice paying off. From the start I decided to only post positive news on social media or provide information people could use like what restaurants in downtown Burlington and Elon are offering takeout and how. That would be part of my contribution to mental health not only for myself but anyone else.
And really, I didn’t have anything intelligent to say about the pandemic. I have no crystal ball. No one does. People who tell you different are lying.
I manage to stay focused on working at home, providing interesting stories about donations to the university for the Today at Elon website. I go upstairs to my desktop computer and my wife Roselee works downstairs on her laptop, moving from the living room to the kitchen with occasional detours outdoors. I break for coffee at around 10, then break again for lunch just before noon. But when not working on Elon projects I was a little lost, merely wandering around the house when stuff could be accomplished in the yard — or even cleaning my workspace at home which is coated in dust. I had no idea what to do with myself in the world as it spins now.
Yes, as everyone knows we’re in a time of high anxiety and profuse confusion. State and local governments issued stay at home orders, service businesses shuttered or looked for ways to offer takeout, curbside or limited entry. Schools closed. Millions of people are learning digital methods to work from their homes. They are the lucky ones. Millions are out of work. A million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19 and the number goes out of date with each word I type. Thousands have died as a result, all gasping for air. And the federal government, which should be a leader during this dark time, has become incompetent through dereliction of duty, neglect of common sense, absence of decency, and political malfeasance coupled with malpractice.
That will be my one rant today.
In the meantime millions of us are trying to find the new abnormal as we keep to ourselves and attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They call it flattening the curve. It’s a policy I agree with because what else do we have? Medical science is playing catch-up. A cure might be months away. Treatment at the moment doesn’t really exist. Testing just to determine if people have it remains limited. People who have no idea what they’re talking about present themselves as experts. At the moment, no one is an expert on this subject.
The only thing we know is, as people we need to be physically separated and by as much distance as possible. Six feet is truly a minimum. It should be more.
Oddly, growing up in a secluded mountainside house in a rural town with a population of 175 trained me to live with limited human contact. I didn’t know what a neighbor was until I moved from Danbury, North Carolina to Greensboro after high school. Over the last three weeks I have only seen my wife Roselee at a distance closer than six feet. I have ventured outside our neighborhood three times — once to get something from my office at Elon and twice to get takeout, including a stop at an ABC store. Roselee has handled visits to the grocery or drug store. At age 60 with a collapsed lung in 2006 and a 27-year history of smoking (ending in 2002) I’m in the high-risk category for dangerous complications should I become infected. This past weekend, Roselee made masks for us both to wear during the times we need to go out for food or other supplies. I hope this doesn’t scare the ABC store guys too badly.
What I have noticed in my few times out, is that too many people out there aren’t adequately doing the social distancing thing. We have seen it on TV and social media. We saw it for ourselves on Saturday as people seemed to collect together randomly in downtown Burlington as we waited in the car for curbside delivery from Burlington Beer Works.
You just can’t count on people not to be stupid. I have said this many times over the past month. I’ll probably say it a lot more.
Sunday afternoon we used technology we learned through working at home to connect with family members. The last few weeks we have become almost experts in using WebEx, Microsoft Teams or Zoom for work-related meetings with colleagues. So we decided two Fridays ago to create a virtual happy hour after work. Five or six of us had drinks of choice together yet safely far apart. We could see each other while we talked about, well … stuff. It’s the highlight of my week.
So on Sunday, one of our nieces set up a Zoom meeting. Through Roselee’s laptop computer we sat at our kitchen counter and video conferenced with Roselee’s brother and his wife in Pittsboro, her sister and brother-in-law and nephew in Newport, our niece in Boone, our niece in New Jersey, and one of our nephews with his girlfriend in New York. It was weird at first but ultimately important to have that time together. We plan to do it again.
I call my mother regularly but have decided a visit to her in Danbury at this time isn’t wise for any of us. She’s 88 years old and has COPD. My brother, who is 59 and diabetic, is her primary caregiver. The coronavirus could wipe out all three of us very quickly. It’s too great a risk for us all. They aren’t tech-savvy enough for a videoconference so phone calls will have to do for now. Hopefully by Mother’s Day a quick visit will be possible.
Meanwhile, I’m in week three of working at home. I know that I am fortunate to have this option. I started to adjust a little just this week. I added quick bursts of exercises to fill any home office downtime I might have. I take a two to three-mile walk in our neighborhood every day. When someone approaches from the same side of the street I’m on, I walk across the street to avoid them, but offer a friendly wave and “hello.” Some respond, others don’t. We will continue to get takeout when we can and its safe to support local businesses that are offering curbside service. The economy and the financial well-being of millions of Americans is a concern rivaling the health threat. I think about it all the time.
As for shaving, well, I did decide to clean the whiskers from the sides of my face. I could never grow a beard there anyway. Being 60 years old hasn’t changed that. So I have facial growth that’s way too random and scraggly to be called a Van Dyke. And if I need to hide it from view? That’s another use for the homemade mask.
Be peaceful y’all. Stay safe. And remember to laugh when you can.