Waiting For Superman: CV Stories, 16 March 2020

Wash your hands, but don't forget to use them to wave too.

Throughout what is looking like is going to be an extended period of isolation for Americans, this newsletter will be a daily look at what it is like to actually live through this moment until this moment is over. It will feature brief opening remarks from me every day, but will mostly be stories from you about how this is affecting you, your family, your friends … your daily life. (The regular weekly newsletter will continue uninterrupted.) It doesn’t work without you: Email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. We are all in this together.

I don’t think I’ve ever waved to more people, total, than I have in the last five days. I’ve been taking my morning runs every day, usually down Milledge Avenue here in Athens, one of the main drags through town, with fraternities and sororities and taco joints and Five & Ten. A large percentage of this town drives down this road every day, and people always see me. I think I’m sort of known as the jogging guy. This irritates my wife to no end, that people are constantly stopping her and saying, “hey, I see your husband running up and down Milledge all the time,” considering she does the same run as I do, only longer (but not faster), but because she does it at 5 a.m. and I do it five hours later, I’m considered the active one.

Like everything else, the runs have felt different the last few days. I usually listen to podcasts on runs, but I’m listening to music now, encouraging my mind to really pay attention to everything around me. Everything seems a little more in focus. And what I’ve noticed is how aggressively normal everyone is trying to be.

Ordinarily, I am ignored on my runs. (Particularly by cars driven by college students.) But there are more people out going on walks now, to get out of the house, to see something other than their children or themselves. And every time they see another person … they are so friendly. They make big, demonstrative waves, and they make a whole production of dramatically stepping out of my way if I’m coming up quickly behind them. People give me grins from the opposite side of the street; I had one guy give me a thumbs up, as if I was overcoming some sort of obstacle. I guess by being out, I sort of was.

There isn’t a moment of the day that every single one of us, at some point, isn’t feeling overwhelmingly anxious. It ebbs and flows … but it mostly ebbs. But that desire to Return To Normal—a desire that I’d argue was there long before the coronavirus showed up—is an irresistible default. Many of us are screaming inside. There has never been anything like this. But seeing another person out there, jogging, walking the dog, mowing the grass, well, we’ve all seen that before. We saw that before all this. That’s normal. We hang onto what we can. And we wave. Hello, fellow citizen. I am greeting you because that’s what people do when they see another person. They wave. And then I wave back. In that moment, it’s what we both need. In that moment, it is enough.

Here are today’s stories. Send me yours at williamfleitch@yahoo.com.

From Anonymous:

As I write this [Saturday], I'm about 10 hours away from getting on the road to pick up my oldest son, who is 18. He's a freshman film major and has been having a great year. He found his people. He's doing interesting work and finding his voice. He's thriving, connecting with instructors and working in teams on projects he couldn't have imagined a couple of years ago. Now he's about to come home to a promised but yet-to-be-tested world of inline instruction with his friends and collaborators scattered across the Midwest.

I’m picking him up Sunday because he begged me for one more day. A handful of them, still in their dorm tonight, are trying to finish a project he knows they won't be able to complete apart. This is anguishing, the idea that I haven't yet gone and brought him home. But my wife and decided to let him have one more day up there before we start his new normal, without all those people he's come to rely on and and care about.

His little brother, in the meantime, has had a video game fiesta today, playing online with friends holed up in their homes around town. Very much against my usual posture, I'm fine with many, many hours of video games today. He's a high school freshman and a good soccer player who, unfortunately, has an MCL sprain right now that means he can't play or do the usual repetitive kicking of a ball through our house we're accustomed to. He's soccer's version of a gym rat, and aims to play in college. This afternoon I heard him ask a friend, "What if soccer just doesn't come back?"

Real life in a form that I was barely aware existed is rolling at them hard right now, and I have no idea what the lives they're embarking on are going to be.

Our final story today comes from Eugene White:

I handle communications for an organization that operates residential facilities, schools, mental health clinics, and ommunity-based programs for 18,000 abused, neglected, traumatized, and otherwise challenged children, adults, and families across 41 counties in upstate New York. We've got 1,400 staff, the bulk of whom are in the Albany area, but we're as far north as the Canadian border and as far west as Binghamton. 

Bluntly, we can't close, because our clients have no place else to go. Our schools have to stay open even when other schools close, and our residences need 24/7/365 staffing. And our people are scared. We're decentralized, many of us aren't in front of computers or on our phones at all times, and unfortunately we form a lot of silos and echo chambers.

We're doing our best to contain panic, make sure everyone's fears are heard, and keep people safe. But a lot of our people feel vulnerable, exposed, and frustrated that there aren't any answers. So far things are holding together, but the strain is here. And maybe the worst part is that it's almost impossible not to stare in slack-jawed horror at each new development, not to be paralyzed by the enormity of it all. 

May you and yours, and everyone and everyone’s for that matter, stay safe, and stay kind. Thank you.

Send me your stories of this moment in history at williamfleitch@yahoo.com.

And please: Be safe.