Happy at Home

espo columnI live in Illinois, where the governor has issued a “stay at home order” and I’m getting along fine and dandy.

Blame the coronavirus.

Let me start by pointing out that despite what some in the press are reporting there is not a “shelter in place” decree.  Shelter in place is what a high school does when a crazed shooter appears on campus; everyone seeks shelter and stays there until the “all clear” is given. It is what people in a chemical plant do if there is a toxic gas leak. It is what farmers in Kansas do when tornadoes appear on the horizon.

Stay at home is serious but less onerous. It means if you don’t have an essential job you stay at some. You can go for a walk or work in your yard, but you can’t visit the grandkids or hold your Friday night poker game.

Only essential business may remain open: groceries, gas stations, banks, carryout food, pharmacies.

Non-essential businesses include bowling alleys, dance clubs, bars, fashion boutiques, florists.

Schools and churches are closed and most people are working remotely from home or out of a job until we either get coronavirus under control or it runs its deadly course.

Pick up any newspaper and you will read of the psychological dangers faced by families suddenly faced with being in the same building for days and nights on end. Of course, those people who live alone can’t go out and mingle with the rest of humanity so they face a future some consider worse than coronavirus: cabin fever.

conradHowever, for some of us (me, in particular), life really hasn’t changed all that much on most days.  I’ve been working from home for two decades so I’m quite accustomed to getting out of bed in the morning and walking 20 steps to my office, which is wherever my computer and phone are charging. During these 20 years, I have had just one consistent office mate, Lady Conrad, a green-cheeked conure.

Being under stay at home orders has some clear disadvantages. I can’t visit my grandchildren and they can’t come to spend the day, which they usually do once a week. I can’t go to Mass at a church. I can’t get a cup of coffee and sit in my local coffee shop.

But with all the online technology available, I can visit my grandchildren via live video, watch Mass live, and still get coffee to go and talk a walk in the park.

Through the internet, I have access to virtually every movie, television program, piece of recorded music, and book ever produced. I also have dozens of books I have obtained with high intentions of reading but that remain on the “to be read” shelf in my office – or the download file in my e-reader.

I can talk to friends on the phone, use email or texting, and I belong to an online prayer group that meets weekly through video conferencing.

In other words, as a long-time worker from home, I learned long ago how not to be isolated even if it seems I am – at least physically.

Like any human being, God never leaves me alone. He is always there for me though I have to confess the sometimes I’m not there for Him. We do talk daily through prayer. Most of my prayers are short and simple. For example, when I complete a challenging piece of work I’ll say “thanks for helping me get that done”. When my computer freezes in the midst of an especially inspiring line of writing my prayer is more like “come on, why now?”

I’m also blessed during this time of being home because my wife’s place of work is closed and she is home with me. I expect there are many people who are not thrilled about the people they are sharing space with. But in my case, I have the person I love more than anyone else in the world, my best friend, and a really fun person all wrapped into one.

I have a happy home and I’m happy to be here.  Thank you, God.

Coronavirus Craziness

fearI think the one thing the world really needs is another commentary on the way the coronavirus is changing our lives.

You may not agree, so I dare you to continue reading to see if I come up with something clever or insightful about the current crisis. These really are interesting times and I fear we are just getting started.

Last week health officials suggest we avoid crowds. Professional and college sports leagues canceled their seasons. Churches suspended services.

You can roll a bowling ball across St. Peter’s Square in Rome and not hit a single pilgrim. The basilica is just as empty.

This week in Chicago, where I live, all the bars and restaurants are shuttered. Schools are closed and parents are trying to figure out how to work and watch kids at the same time.

By next week we may all be hunkered in our basements, fearful that the next knock on the door will be a federal health soldier asking for a blood sample.

Perhaps it won’t get that extreme. But I’ve already seen enough of the human reaction to a pandemic to have confidence that things will be much crazier.

Let me share a few observations.

  1. What is the single thing that Americans are most afraid of having to live without? TOILET PAPER. People are buying TP as fast as trucks can restock stores. People are hoarding the stuff and I think some families must have enough to last for years.
  2. People are stocking up on bottled water, medicine, favorite foods, pet food, hand sanitizer, and beer.
  3. There is always some greedy jerk who tries to make an extra buck during a crisis. A couple guys made the news last night when the police found they had bought up thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and were selling it for outrageous prices to fearful neighbors. A judge decided they should give all their inventory to charities.
  4. My local newspaper (a major metropolitan daily) offered a long feature article on how to occupy oneself if restricted to home. In other words, if you can’t go to work, school or the mall, what on earth could you do?  Frankly, anyone who can’t figure out how to occupy themselves has greater issues than coronavirus.  If you have a cheap computer with an internet connection you can for very little money access virtually every movie, television program, and book ever produced in the history of mankind. You can also pick up a physical book.  Other things you can do include spending time with the other people you live with, either roommates or family. If you live alone you can talk to people on the phone.
  5. Life goes on despite the lack of sports to watch or in which to participate. This is a reminder that sports are a pastime. That is, they are something people do to pass the time, not improve the world.
  6. As a Catholic, if I am quarantined I will have extra time to meditate and pray. Prayer is a good thing to do in a pandemic. It might do me good to re-read the Bible, a book that has inspiration, history, drama, romance, and poetry.
  7. I’ve learned two new definitions and my first instinct regarding the meaning of each was incorrect.
    1. Flatten curve. I thought this would have something to do with building roads or railways. Turns out is related to the reduction of the curve on a chart of increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.
    2. Social distancing. I figured this was a short description of the way I feel around the right and famous; I sense the social distance between them and moi. But it refers to keeping a distance of a few feet from other people so you don’t get their germs.
  8. Everyone is encouraged to be thorough in the washing of hands. A tip for Catholics or other open to Catholic ways; if you pray a Hail Mary slowly and with reverence, it takes just the amount of time required to do a solid washing of the hands.

Much of the “normal” world I experience is closed. Many of the things I would normally do are unavailable. But God is always available. I just need to start the conversation.

One Size Fits None

1024px-Rainbow-gradient-fully-saturated.svgThe California legislation is pondering a bill that would prohibit department stores from displaying merchandise for boys and girls in different aisles.

The law would require all clothes and toys to be gender-neutral, clearly, a tip of the hat to the movement aimed to ensure that nobody influences a child to believe they are male or female.

After all, what right have you or I to look at a child and call it a boy or girl? And if every child is kept in a state of confusion it gives adults a good excuse for their own confusion.

Frankly, when I first read about this I was furious. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the legislation doesn’t go far enough. There is so much more in our inconsistent culture that must be set straight. Without correction we risk preserving a world in which there are both men and women.

To address the shortcomings of the legislation I offer the following amendments:

  1. The uniformity in merchandise should not be only for children but for people of all ages. We can’t put all the pressure for reform on the little ones.
  2. There will be one aisle of clothing in each store that will feature a rainbow jumpsuit that comes in a single “one size fits all”. (I realize the suit will be too big for some people and too small for others but that is just something we have to put up with until genetic engineering can create a population in which every person is the same size, shape, and ambiguous gender.)
  3. Regarding what is worn under the jumpsuits: don’t ask don’t tell.
  4. Shoes are banned. We can’t apply the “one size fits all” rule here without generating millions of bunions and blisters. Thus, everyone will go barefoot.
    1. The barefoot idea comes from my son’s description of a philosophy professor he met in college. She went barefoot all year round, rain, shine or snow. She said it helped her maintain closer contact with Mother Earth.
    2. I recognize this will be a serious problem for the National Hockey League but we all have to adapt and sacrifice to make the world a bland but consistent wasteland.
  5. The gender-control of toys also will apply to adult toys, namely cars, airplanes, and boats.
    1. All car owners must drive a black sedan with dull gray interior. (This will have Henry Ford jumping for joy in his grave.) We can’t have, for example, a woman driving around in a pink car setting a gender-specific example for the next generation. And we can’t have men driving around in anything built by Dodge. Die muscle car, die.
    2. All airplanes will be painted dull gray. Passengers will be indistinguishable from the flight crew because everyone will be wearing a rainbow jumpsuit. So… it will be important to check IDs before letting people into the cockpit.
    3. All boat names will be removed and each boat will be labeled with the owner’s Social Security Number. We can’t have people sailing around with gender-screaming names like “Daddy’s Favorite” or “Sweet Loraine”.

I know some readers will react to my proposed amendments with the rage I felt when I first read about the legislation. Do not be afraid. Change is hard, but we can do this.

One size can fit all. Or none.