The rise of novel coronavirus has transformed everything I’d come to know as normal.
The scratchy throat that in previous years I’d dismiss as the onset of spring allergies is now a source of concern. A trip to the neighborhood market I’ve visited a thousand times is now a journey fraught with risk. The drive to my job as a morning radio host through eerily quiet streets is a reminder that a microscopic enemy has all but shut down a vibrant city.
The one thing I know best is the home and family I’ve built with my wife. My family is the reason I’ve worked three jobs for years. My family is the reason I’ve worked so hard to be someone who matters. Amid the books and the radio shows, the TV appearances and accolades I’ve collected over the years, my family is my greatest accomplishment. But in these strange times, I’ve learned that I don’t know my family as intimately as I thought I did, and that is the most unnerving part of it all.
Amid government shutdowns that have caused our city and many other places to grind to a sudden halt, I’ve had more opportunities to stay home than I’ve had in many years. And in staying home I’ve learned that in 20 years of marriage and fatherhood, I’ve missed seemingly little things that are actually larger than life.
The 18-year-old daughter who used to crawl up my shoulder as an infant has grown into a lovely young lady who looks more like her mother every day. I tried to make breakfast for her last week, and learned that she doesn’t like grits.
My 15-year-old son is tall like my father and brother. He’s observant, mature and responsible, but given his choice of television fare, he still likes the kid movies on Netflix. And he’s obsessed with YouTube videos about teen fashion.
I’ve learned something about myself, as well. My work — both paid and unpaid — is an escape of sorts. I host two radio shows and volunteer at a neighborhood school. I run a citywide mentoring program for men. I serve on the pastoral staff at my church. I write for two newspapers and blog for a website. I am constantly running from one place to another with little time for rest in between, and I love it. But here’s the reality. I love my family even more.
The shutdowns that have come with the rise of coronavirus has given me time to contemplate that simple fact. I suspect I’m not the only one.
Government officials have estimated that COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 people in the United States before the crisis ends. Yet none of that frightens me. My greatest concern is that when the lockdowns and shutdowns come to an end, I will have to return to living my life at breakneck speed. My concern is that I will never again return to a time when I can sit down with my teenage children and fall asleep watching a movie.
I don’t want to go back to a time when that was a luxury, so when the coronavirus outbreak is over, some things in my life will have to change. I suspect I will do a little less volunteer work. I will probably accept fewer speaking engagements. I probably will stop working so much.
It’s odd, really. A worldwide pandemic that has frightened so many has done just the opposite for me. It has pointed me back to the things that matter most. It has placed me with the people I hold most dear. It has changed my perspective in the most unexpected ways, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Solomon Jones is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.