“Do you think 2020 will be better than 2019?” the big man asked his friend in Times Square last year as the glittering ball dropped and the massive crowd began to sing, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”
Some 7,000 miles away, as the crow flies, a nagging story was emerging from Wuhan, China about a 55-year-old man who had developed symptoms of a novel coronavirus and died. Two laborers wearing full hazmat suits wrapped the body in protective clothing, and quietly buried the man in a large, deep grave, avoiding the world’s attention.
Whispers of this man’s death soon spread, and by March 2020, COVID-19 had arrived in America. The ensuing eight months have been a roller-coaster ride of emotions and turbulence.
We are now easing into the welcome time of year with Thanksgiving just past and Christmas and New Year’s looming, times when most of us give thanks and acclaim new life. We humbly celebrate them as times of prayer.
My wife, Brenda, will bring out the formal dinnerware and set our dining room table, and this year we will remember, as we always do, our absent family and friends, those who have touched our lives with love. Coming from large families, both of us will look around our table, noting the number of those joining us is smaller, not only because of the coronavirus, but the bell, as John Donne reminded us, tolls for each of us.
We will share stories about our loved ones, bringing them back to life in our memory. Our laughter will glow as we remember the good and happy times, and pause for the darker moments, as we offer thanksgiving, and knowing for even during tough times, our families can move forward and overcome.
Brenda and I will pause, too, from the daily barrage of news and discussion about the COVID-19 and the government restrictions. We are at an age where we believe common sense should prevail and basic precautions are prudent, although we have not allowed the fear of illness to overwhelm our lives.
We devote more time to talking with each other, spending time at the Scrabble board, and less time traveling from home.
According to media accounts, some people are finding it difficult to accept the additional time at home and the lack of normal activity.
Those who read my articles know I grew up in Port William, a small town eight miles north of Wilmington. Perhaps growing up in the 1950s and 1960s has given me a unique perspective on our current status.
There isn’t much difference in our lifestyle when I grew up compared to the restrictive lifestyle we are experiencing today.
There wasn’t that much to do in our small town. We grew up in a time when most daily socialization occurred with our families.
We had many friends, but seldom traveled outside of town except for Fridays when we shopped for groceries at Albers or Kroger, and on Sundays when we to church.
Eating out was almost unheard of in my family. Every evening at 5:05 p.m. sharp, our family sat down together at the kitchen table and ate the homemade food my mother had prepared. There were no McDonald’s. We never traveled to Dayton or Cincinnati for dinner.
We sat on our wooden front porch most evenings and talked with the neighbors as they strolled by. Other friends would even pull their cars over and join us when they saw our family sitting outside.
On Sunday afternoons, we played baseball at the high school diamond, and normally only left town for an occasional away game.
All the neighborhood kids spent time roller-skating on the sidewalks, riding bicycles around town, and playing cowboys and Indians with our friends in the cemetery or on the old Grasshopper railroad beds. We returned home when the sun went down. Our parents didn’t need an Apple Watch to know our whereabouts.
Our parents were the children of the Great Depression and the Second World War. These trials and tribulations strengthened them, just as the pandemic will strengthen us.
Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2020 will restore our hope in a reckless world, if we open our hearts and minds. As St. Matthew told us, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We suffer now and may for some time, but God’s love shines in the darkness. Hope can heal the wounded soul.
Abraham Lincoln once said in a speech, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true in all times and situations.”
The wise men presented him these words: “And this, too, shall pass.”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff. His recently published book, “Around the Fire: Stories from Here and There” — comprised of his nonfiction stories in the News Journal through the years — is available through the Clinton County History Center in Wilmington, or you can reach Pat directly at 937-205-7844 or via email at [email protected] to purchase a copy.