Everything I needed to know about living through a global pandemic, I learned in 1983. I just didn’t know it then.
We’re all in this together.
I keep seeing that.
Americans were a little late to the party, but we sure came in loud and proud. We showed up.
We felt a little mad at China. Sanitize, why don’t ya. And we felt a little sorry for Italy. We watched them play music from their balconies as they were stuck at home.
Then we watched as it slammed into a nursing home in Washington state.
Not long after, New York City caught the literal fever.
Then New Yorkers fled and took the fever with them to other places.
And here we all are.
All of us.
Rationing toilet paper.
Mourning with the graduating seniors.
Posting our own senior pictures and pretending the class of 2020 is comforted by that.
Figuring out a totally different path to education.
Not touching other people.
Rallying around the ones who need more than we do.
Confusing our days from our nights and sleeping in.
Wondering how long our world will look like this and function like this. Questioning how long we are capable of keeping this up.
We’re all in this together.
What a strange phrase that is. Like a spanish conversation that walks past me before I can pluck the message from the few words I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.
Because it’s never been true for me before.
I think back over the scores of tragedies that have pierced our world over the years. Floods. Bombings. Tornados. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Orlando. Hurricanes Katrina, Michael, Irma, and Maria. So many news stories that became hashtags and benefit concerts and prayer vigils. But those things were not in my house or my back yard. Those people were not my people. I felt the sadness. I rallied around from afar. But I wasn’t in it with them. Not like this.
I am now.
We truly are all in this together.
All at risk. No one immune.
From the disease or the grief of knowing someone who is suffering or has succumbed.
All of us need the rules that are in place to protect us.
We need our leaders.
We need each other.
And we need God.
I was out for a bike ride on Tuesday evening, pedaling up central Florida’s excuse for a hill and trying to outrun my grumps. I was grumpy at one kid for–well, never mind–and I was grumpy at another kid for running my AirPods dead. Instead of the queued up playlist I had planned for my ride, I was forced to stuff my technology back into my pockets.
I had nothing to listen to other than the hum of my bike tires and the crickets warming up for a night’s symphony.
It was almost dark. Dusk was filtering through the trees in shades of lavender. No one was out. I was alone on the road. And in my mind, I was suddenly back in a wooded side yard of Lee Avenue in Tallahassee, Florida in 1983. I was in the 6th grade.
My friend, Rondelle, lived in an old section of Tallahassee. Her street was lined with old brick homes flanked by old oak trees and owned by old people. There was nothing on that street that wasn’t old. Except for us.
On Friday nights, we slept over at her house, because there was something so exciting about roaming a neighborhood that went to sleep at 8 p.m. There were always at least 4 of us. Sometimes 6. And we always went out after dark to play a game invented by her older brothers called Ten Speed.
Ten Speed was hide and seek after dark in teams. We always set a boundary of some sort, because we weren’t the FBI. We couldn’t look exhaustively. There were really only two rules in the game:
(1) Respect the boundaries.
(2) Stay with your team.
On the hiding team you could hide anywhere, from under someone’s patio furniture to up in the ancient, spindly arms of a live oak. On the seeking team, you could do anything within your imagination to draw out the competition. You could spit in the bushes or use a stick to whack at shapes in the darkness. You could tell jokes or whisper threats. Anything to solicit a snort or a shifting in the leaves.
It’s hard to say which side of the game I liked better. It was 100% exhilarating. I always felt like I was 5 minutes from an arrest or a grisly accident. I almost always wet my pants.
I had never been a fan of regular hide and seek. I didn’t like games that were every man for himself. But Ten Speed was different. In Ten Speed, we were all in it together.
Thinking back on those days I wonder how I would have adapted to a pandemic quarantine. If I wanted to see my friends, I had to go find their physical bodies. If I wanted to talk to them, I used one of the two corded, rotary-dial, avacado green phones in my house and I talked to them within earshot of every other member of my family. I don’t know how I would have lasted for weeks on end without access to these games and these people.
When I finished my ride on Tuesday night, I was no longer thinking about the kid that did the thing or the one that used up the juice to my ear buds. I was thinking about people. And how people persevere and overcome. And about the fact that maybe things aren’t so different in 2020 from my childhood days running along Lee Avenue under the hazy glow of a street light.
The 2020 forecast is nebulous and uncertain. I won’t be the one to predict it or figure it out. So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, with everyone else in the world, and wait for this cloud to lift. And it will lift. I’m going to try not to look too far past my handlebars and listen to the voice of a child reciting the rules of a long-forgotten game:
Respect the boundaries.
Stay with your team.
We are in this together.