My youngest daughter turns 25 years old today and I don’t know what to tell her, other than “Happy Birthday.”
She currently lives and works in Seattle. She moved there a couple of months ago, before she realized the city was about to become ground zero for the novel coronavirus in the United States.
“I’m OK, Dad, don’t worry,” she tells me. And of course, I worry. A lot.
My other daughter doesn’t want me to worry either. My kids have always been competitive, but they’ve taken it too far this time. While my youngest resides in what is arguably the most contagious city in the U.S. right now, my oldest resides in San Francisco, and works at the airport — in the international terminal, where flights originating in COVID-19-infected China are common every day, no matter what you’ve heard about a travel ban.
It’s as though they are competing for the “Dad Worries About Me More Than You” trophy.
They’re going to have to share it.
I’m supposed to be Dad. That’s “Dad,” with a capital D, meaning the guy with wisdom, with advice, the guy who knows things, who’s seen things, the guy who’s been there. Dad always has something for everything. That’s who my dad is. That’s who his dad was. That’s probably who your dad was, to you. Right now, that’s not me.
I’m 52 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff, and I’ve dealt with it. I watched the Twin Towers fall, before my eyes. I’ve seen presidents shot, and seen them impeached. I watched the space shuttle explode. I saw the Berlin Wall come down. I watched Shock and Awe, stock market crashes and Great Recessions.
Pandemics, epidemics and killer flu outbreaks. Hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods. I’ve seen cities burn, I’ve seen races riot. I’ve seen a continent starve.
I’ve seen friends and relatives die too young, defending their country. I’ve seen others die for absolutely no good reason. I’ve cried the same for all of them.
I’ve seen a lot of good things, too, far more often than the bad things. Way too many to list. They’re why I fight to stay alive — I don’t want to miss anything. It’s why I urge friends in crisis to fight to stay alive — I don’t want them to miss anything, and I don’t want to miss them.
I’ve witnessed a lot, but I’ve never seen anything like this.
I’ve never seen a time when everything’s canceled, everything’s closed, everything’s empty — because of a virus. I’ve never seen a time when we’re told to avoid each other, to avoid crowds of more than 10, try to stay six feet apart. I’ve never imagined a world where the best advice is to just stay home and stay away from everyone else.
No hugs. No handshakes. No high-fives. No interaction. Keep a social distance.
It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s harder than I imagined it would be. Honestly, it makes me ache a little inside.
Until now, I never realized how much my soul needs to shake the hands of those I meet, to slap the hands of friends I support — and to hold my loved ones close. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
I talked to a very wise person on the phone yesterday, for an article I was writing about the local Senior Center, which was shutting down due to COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s kind of a sad time for all of us,” she said. “It’s a good social place, and people really watch out for one another.”
She went on to say that she had advised the other members to stay healthy, take their temperatures, follow all the protocols and “if they get lonely, I suggested they call one another and talk. If we pull together, we can all get through this fairly easily.”
And that’s it, really. That’s the “Dad” wisdom I was looking for. Call one another. Talk. We can all get through this. This, too, shall pass.
There is no silver lining to suffering, and I’m not looking for one here. People are going to get sick. Some of them are going to die. Businesses are going to shut down. People we know are going to miss paychecks, they’re going to lose jobs. We’ll need to help these people, and some of them could be us. We’ll need to watch out for each other. Not really a silver lining there.
But what if we used this moment of universal vulnerability to cut out the societal rot of Randian self-interest and begin seeing one another — soft, breakable bodies and all — not as impediments to individual success, but as integral and impossibly precious builders of our collective happiness?
We need each other, now, more than ever. What if, by learning to care for one another, we learn that we’re ultimately caring for ourselves?
We can shake hands, we can high five, we can hug — and hold each other tight — from a distance.
It seems as though the world is forcing us apart right now.
Maybe six feet of space is a good distance for us to all pull together.