I wrote a column for my husband’s paper when he ran out of ideas a couple of weeks ago but then they realized they had enough personal columns and didn’t need it after all, so I thought I’d share it here instead. So, this was written about two weeks ago, a little more, when we were closer to all this craziness starting and mainly for a local audience.
Looking at the news today, it definitely can be hard to find something to laugh at, but if you look close you will see there is still joy to be found in the world. Sure, most of us are under quarantine (and in nine months there will either be a large percentage of the population divorced or adding a baby to their families) and some of us, God help us, are in quarantine without toilet paper or alcohol (I’m not sure which is worse, but I’m going with the alcohol for some of you).
There are a lot of scary news reports and crazy press conferences that bombard us throughout the day, and we’ve seen more of our nations leaders than we’ve ever wanted to (no matter if you’re a fan of them or not). Yet, all around us humor is happening and when we look for it and find it, I have a feeling it will help poke into the doom and gloom at least a little bit.
I found a little bit of humor last week when our family finally explored further than our front sidewalk, where we had mainly been venturing to draw on it with sidewalk. Even before we were told not to leave our homes (other than for essential needs), my kids and I were mainly homebound. First, we homeschool and second, we’ve been down to one car while one of our vehicles was undergoing major car surgery (in case you’re wondering, surgery went well, and the car has fully recovered.) and that one car was in the parking lot of my husband’s workplace, while I was 40 minutes away in another town. I should mention that by the time this column is published we will hopefully be packing up the last of our belongings and heading to our new house. (If you caught this post, you’ll know that hasn’t happened yet, but I guess I was hopeful when I wrote this column.)
On a nice sunny day last week and my daughter, who is 5, announced she wanted to go on a bike ride. A bike ride with her means her riding her bike and me walking behind. I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t in the mood. I was depressed. The news was depressing. Moving a house in the middle of all it was even more depressing. The fact we couldn’t delay the move was depressing beyond depressing. Sunlight after several days of clouds? Eh. Not even that was interesting me in going outside. The fact I didn’t want to leave the house was why I finally did.
As we grabbed our jackets my 13-year old son skipped downstairs and asked if it was okay if he sat in the windowsill while he did his homework. I told him it was, thinking he meant inside the window, with the window open but the screen closed.
“Cool,” he said. “Because I did that yesterday and got some strange looks and then I realized I should have probably asked you first.”
I figured he had received strange looks because the people walking by couldn’t really see what he was doing inside the window, inside the house. Let me reiterate the word “inside” because when I walked outside the house to take the walk with my daughter, I saw my son’s legs sticking out his bedroom window, over the roof of our front porch, with the screen and window all the way up, reading his book. He grinned and waved.
“I thought you meant inside!” I shouted up.
He just grinned again, and I told him to be careful, but knew the roof was flat there and didn’t really see how he could fall off of it. Sometimes my daughter is too much like me because at the corner of the sidewalk near the house she said, “Maybe I should go back and tell Jonathan to make sure he doesn’t fall off that roof.” We kept walking, though, because I had suggested we walk past our neighbor Louise’s house and see if she would like to stand on the porch and watch Grace ride by on her bike.
Louise is a very active older woman normally, but she also has an autoimmune disease that affects her lungs and being quarantined during this outbreak is necessary to be sure she remains healthy. I knew she has been going stir crazy because I text her to ask how she is from time to time.
She was delighted to come out on her porch and wave at us but before we got there we saw a couple walking down the sidewalk toward us and I suddenly realized I wasn’t sure what the protocol for greeting people on the street is in the middle of a pandemic. Should I jump out of the way while screaming: “Don’t get near me!”? Or should we yell “Social distancing!!! Social distancing!!!” while holding our hands out, our index fingers forming the shape of a cross, to remind them to stay away from us? Instead my daughter and I simply calmly stepped to one side and let them pass and they walked in the street to make sure we were all practicing social distancing. They did stop and ask us some questions about when we were moving and wishing us luck in our new home, but we all made sure to lean back away from each other as if we all had bad breath. Or maybe we all really did.
Louise was ready to sit when we arrived and invited us on her porch. I was immediately paranoid about the invitation. On her porch? Could we be six feet apart up there? It turned out that her wicker patio furniture was indeed about six feet apart so there we sat, on a beautiful sunny day, chatting about her recent visit to Florida, the weather, what we all should be eating to stay healthy — anything other than the big, dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over our heads. (It reminds me of Harry Potter and how they say “He who shall not be named” for Voldemort, but instead, it’s “It that shall not be named.”).
While we were chatting, I could hear a woman talking fairly loudly from down the street. I watched her turn the corner and head toward Louise’s, gesturing as she walked with two other women following behind her. At first it looked like a tour with the woman in front being the tour guide, the other two walking behind nodding as they walked, but I couldn’t imagine what landmarks in this part of our town the woman would be showing. Maybe, “Over here you’ll notice the Little League Field and beyond that the high school and the football stadium.”? I mean, they’re nice facilities, but not exactly historical.
Then I focused on how the women were walking in a line like a row of ducks, one after another about six feet apart. The woman in the front kept shouting over her shoulder at the one’s in the back while sharing a story (she wasn’t a tour guide after all) and the other women shouted affirmative responses back. I realized they were taking a walk together while practicing social distancing. I wondered if this would be our new normal – walking around with five feet between us, shouting over shoulders.
There were actually a lot of people out walking that day. Our “neighbors” down the street (we still call them neighbors, even though they live several houses from us) stopped on the corner and the wife took a photo on her phone toward our house while I watched from Louise’s porch. I wondered what that was about, forgetting about my son sitting on the roof of our front porch while reading. The neighbor that had taken the photo walked by where I was sitting and as I greeted her she filled me in on why she had such a smile on her face (though she often has a lovely smile on her face).
Apparently seeing my son on the roof sent her and her husband into a small fit of laughter because years ago their youngest son did the same thing when he was about five, except he didn’t ask for permission. She had run to the grocery store and returned to see her young son sitting on the roof, reading a book. When she asked what he thought he was doing he announced: “I’m just sitting up here reading my book and waiting for you to come home.” My neighbor said when she went inside to help retrieve him, she asked the rest of the family “weren’t you watching him?” They said they had been but apparently not as well as they thought since he’d somehow slipped by them and climbed out on the roof. Luckily all ended well with him and with my son.
By the time I got back to my house to see what my son was up to, he’d pulled a comforter and two pillows and some snacks out and had made himself pretty comfortable, pushing the boundaries of the permission I had given him to sit in the windowsill. Our cat decided she’d like to see what the roof looked like too so she sauntered through the window later and roamed the roof near my son while people walking by gawked.
“ Is that your cat?” my son said a woman asked him.
It reminded me of that old joke series by Comedian Bill Engvall where people state something obvious and he says to them, “Here’s your sign.” I couldn’t figure out who else the woman would have thought the cat belonged to and I wish my son had told her, “Nope. Not mine. Must be one of the neighbors’ cats climbed up here on our porch roof to wander around it.”
It’s true. It really is hard to find humor when the world seems to be crumbling around us, but when you do find those little gems that make you smile or laugh make sure to hold on to them. You can bring them forward in your mind when everything else you hear is negative and scary.
In case you’re wondering that couple’s son was reading Huckleberry Finn out on the roof. My son was reading Harry Potter.