This is how I’ve seen his face for the past three weeks: a screen between us. But today I saw THIS! A smile. A genuine, eye-sparkling, teeth showing, leaning in smile! You know what he was smiling at? Not another YouTube video. Not a win on a video game. Not even a friend’s message on snapchat. Certainly not an AMI lesson or link. Want to know what he was smiling at? ANOTHER PERSON “IN PERSON”! A friend, a group of friends, a safe but social circle… their faces and their voices bantering like they had just walked into their classroom in the middle of a good, bad, or ugly school week. 

Today was kind of a gut punch. The news was expected but when I heard it spoken, “School is closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year,” I got a lump in my throat. That’s it. He and his goofy friends will not gather again as Freshmen. The teammates won’t be in the locker room giving each other grief and cheering each other on during Spring Training. The classmates won’t be chattering and laughing as they walk the halls. The friends won’t circle up under the awning at lunchtime and tease each other about each other. They won’t be at pep rallies and games, starstruck by the upperclassmen who have it all figured out. Everything just changed in a way that I have never experienced. How is he experiencing it? How is he handling it?

Yesterday, the Surgeon General said, “The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment. It’s going to be our 9/11 moment. It’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives.”

Until the day they died, my grandparents could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when Pearl Harbor was struck. I repeatedly heard the story of what my parents were doing the day Kennedy was assassinated. My generation remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing the day the towers fell: all global tragedies that stopped the population in its tracks. The world stopped spinning and we fell into each other’s arms and shared our hopes and fears and grief and fortitude. What the Surgeon General put into words has been in my thoughts for a few days. For my son’s generation, it will be their Pearl Harbor moment. It will be their 9/11 moment. Except it isn’t a moment. This hasn’t been life as usual leading up to a day which determined that things will never be the same. We saw, and see, it coming. Statistically and factually, we know what to expect. Emotionally and socially, we don’t know what to expect. Pearl Harbor, Kennedy, World Trade Center… all unprecedented and unimaginable experiences for their respective generations. COVID-19… unprecedented even in its approach. 

What I think I’ve observed for my family is that we have been thrust into the aftermath of the tragedy without experiencing the climactic isolated event. There is no ship at the bottom of the ocean, no eternal flame at a grave, no ground zero… It’s just everywhere at different stages affecting people in different ways and warning people in different paradigms. We hail the front lines: health care, truck drivers, grocery stores; but we aren’t all essential workers in the dynamic of COVID. We watch and read and track the morbidity and mortality of this disease, but we aren’t all sick. The one thing we have all been asked to do is stop the spread. Be unified in separation. Bond together by distancing. Reach out by staying in. In my fifty-five years on this planet, I have never experienced such fundamental clarity and confusion. 

Before there was a hashtag for TP apocalypse, my friends and I would share laughs and memes about our preference for being anti-social… Please don’t hug me. If you must be touchy-feely, I will accept a fingertip greeting. The only plan I knew I would keep was the plan to cancel plans. Social distancing? Meh, no big deal. Clean some closets, binge watch some TV, put together a puzzle. 

That was twenty-four days ago. I have learned that the only person I’m fooling about society not needing society is myself. I’ve cleaned the closets, and hid in them and cried. I’ve watched the shows, and turned the TV off to sit in silence for hours. I’m not sleeping. At all. This is me – a person on the other side of middle-aged who has seen the tragedies that broke our hearts and strengthened our spirits. HOW IS MY FIFTEEN YEAR OLD SON HANDLING THIS? 

Well, what I see is: He is grumpy. He acts like he doesn’t care. He would rather chew razorblades than do any kind of schoolwork. He sleeps way too much. He doesn’t play with the dog. He fights with me and that’s typical; but our fights aren’t on the heels of leaving the house for school or scouts or church where he can let the steam out. He asks me if I want to watch a movie and half way through he just walks away. He’ll sit down for a game of cards, and say he’s tired after two hands. He is trying to self adjust. He is holding it together far better than I am probably aware of. He is worried about me and us and our family, but he tries not to show it. I am worried about him and us and our family, but I try not to show it. 

Look, I see the chalk art and waterfall walks and cute “my COVID journal” worksheets. I’m not ignorant of the resources and opportunities we have. I’m navigating the best I can and it’s taking me a minute. I look for the humor in things – it’s my coping mechanism and I have no apologies for it, just as I have no judgement for how others cope. I have gratitude, I’m not blind to the blessings. Academically, ninth grade has been horrendous for us! We just got a curveball and I think we will knock it out of the AMI park. I’m a born-again reduce/reuse/recycler! Catching a lot of fist pump action on that one. I’m not breaking the bank for cheeseburgers. I’ve worn my pajamas to church, and I wasn’t late for a change! My son could make a list of the things he’s grateful for, and he has. We both are well aware of how much worse things could be for us, and how much worse things already are for others. We are fine, we really are. But today I realized the importance of keeping it fine. 

I have missed that smile on his face and it’s not a smile that I can generate. It took friends – faces and voices and interaction with friends. It was simply an hour on zoom with his church youth group and pastor. He was anxiously counting down the minutes all day for that zoom meeting. He was frantically getting it set up on his computer. Suddenly, I heard a loud obnoxious voice resurface after three weeks of dormancy. I heard laughter and prayer. I heard laughter and prayer. I caught a glance of the Brady Bunch screen with the other kids whose faces I miss. It seemed to come and go way too quickly, but when he logged off there was a pep in his step and I saw what this generation’s 9/11 looks like. It looks remarkably the same as ours. Friends, support, laughter, tears, prayer, nonsense, resilience, recovery, broken hearts and strengthened spirits.

We really are going to be okay. I tend to avoid hype the best I can. That may be why it’s taken me so long to get creative and proactive about how COVID-19 isn’t going to hold us hostage. I still don’t quite have it figured it out. But it must involve human interaction in whatever way we can accomplish that. That’s love. It isn’t as cheesy as it sounds… all we need is love!

It’s Holy Week. It’s a time to reflect on the greatest gift of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There is no true, pure love aside from the love of Christ. I may not have what I think I need… a job to go to, a cheeseburger, plans to cancel. But I do have everything I will ever need: the love of Christ and the gift of eternity. Find a face and a voice and share love. Share a smile. Zoom in on it. 

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