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…And Then Everything Changed

Today, we ate egg sandwiches. We had a Zoom meeting with a dozen toddlers. We watched my daughter’s teacher sing songs in Spanish. Ria got on her back and touched her toes, just like her teacher on the computer. Today, we biked along Lake Washington, and Ria pointed out ducklings drifting on the emerald green water. She also pointed out geese and mimicked their loud honking. We passed a marina, and she proclaimed she had an azul boat. I had one too, apparently. So did Mamma. And so did our dog, Manny. Although, his boat was green.


This is our COVID-19 quarantine. So far, I’d say it’s pretty grand.


Later, Ria and I built a couch fort out of pillows. She called me silly when I crawled through the tunnel we’d created. She took a nap, and I lifted weights downstairs. We Skyped with Grandma and Grandpa. We read Daniel Tiger at least five times. We watched Daniel Tiger on the TV. We also watched the Wheels on the Bus video. This evening, my daughter slept soundly in her crib, and I took Manny for his usual walk on the trail.


I once heard a poet explain to aspiring poets that every single line should be able to precede the words “and then everything changed.” For instance, “Today we ate egg sandwiches…and then everything changed.” Or, “we biked along Lake Washington…and then everything changed.” I’ve been thinking about this advice in the past few days, because, undeniably, everything has changed as a result of the virus. Schools are shut down. Playgrounds are wrapped in yellow caution tape. Work has come to a standstill. I myself am furloughed indefinitely.


And yet, we as a people are resilient. The Nightly News goes on, with reporters filming live shots from their living rooms and conducting interviews via video messaging. Groceries arrive at the front door in cardboard boxes, and we wipe down every can of beans and carton of spinach before bringing them inside.


I know that everyone is not so lucky. Some people are permanently out of work. Foodbanks are running short on supplies. Others are getting terribly sick. People are dying. Hospital workers are bracing for a crush. Like Italian doctors, American doctors may soon have to choose who to save. A pandemic spread across the country…and then everything changed.


But what I think that poet was driving at is that life is always a moment away from shifting. One second, we’re changing the radio station in the car, the next, we’re T-boned. But it doesn’t even always have to be that dramatic. It doesn’t always have to change for the worse. Maybe a song is used in a movie and weeks later that song pops into your head while you’re walking to work. You begin listening to that artist. You go to a concert (well, not right now. Because #SocialDistancing) and happen to be standing next to a cute girl. You fall in love. “I heard a song in a movie…and then everything changed.”


My point is that we shouldn’t give this virus more credit than it deserves. Yes, we must take it seriously and do absolutely everything humanly possible to limit its devastation. Yes, the virus is altering the entire course of human history. But is it like a car crash or is it like a song in a movie? Is it slamming into us and spinning us around 180 degrees, or is it nudging us into a different lane, toward an exit we might have been inclined to take anyway?


In addition to spending so much quality time with my daughter, I’ve also been Skyping with friends more than ever. My college roommates and I have been playing Settlers of Catan virtually, shooting the shit, discussing the world. We’ve laughed, we’ve argued. It’s been more than a decade since all of us have sat around the same table playing a board game. Somehow, strangely, it feels like old times. –Andrew Waite

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