Hell, it was only earlier this month when most of us first caught wind of what the coronavirus was, this highly-infectious sickness roaming through China and Southeast Asia. At the time, the concern was — literally and figuratively — an ocean away. I think of the old Mad magazine tagline “What, me worry?” and cringe at the lack of initial response compared to where we currently (and are projected to) stand in all of “this.”
But, while this virus quickly made its way to American soil, so have the rules set forth by local, state and federal officials in trying to cope with a global pandemic. Within the last week, our entire region of Western North Carolina has pretty much shut down, this eerie post-apocalyptic scene now familiar all over the United States and the rest of our planet.
And here I sit at a kitchen table in a small bungalow a few blocks from downtown St. Augustine, Florida. Normally, the streets are buzzing with tourists and locals alike, all soaking in that signature sunshine with a slight breeze coming off the nearby Atlantic Ocean. As I type this, the streets are silent, businesses closed until further notice, but the sunshine and slight breeze remain, thankfully.
Last Thursday, I took off for The Sunshine State to keep an eye on my parents before they venture back home to Upstate New York. Spending every March in St. Augustine, they’re eager to get on the road and return to the old farmhouse, which, at last check, is now covered with a fresh blanket of snow.
It was I-40 to I-26 to I-95 to get here. Whereas these routes are known to be heavily traveled, I found myself rocketing down the highway with ease. The usual traffic through Asheville, Columbia, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, had disappeared. The masses were (finally) adhering to state and national guidelines as seen on blinking signs above the interstate: “Stay Home.”
Initially, I was hesitant to head down to St. Augustine, to take the chance of travel and put myself in close quarters with my folks, who, though healthy, are both in their 70s. But, amid their concerns of being alone in Florida with the rest of our family back in the North Country, I decided to roll down and take care of whatever they needed.
Today (Tuesday morning) is my fifth day in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States (founded 1565). My parents and I have been laying low. Quiet mornings sitting on the front porch over coffee. Watching the news and keeping track of the latest developments. A quick afternoon excursion to the beach for some fresh air and sunshine. Homemade meals or takeout for dinner, all while watching classic films on TCM with my mom or old boxing matches with my dad.
Things are calm, with a sense of calculated rhythm that keeps us at bay with our wandering thoughts. For someone like myself, it’s odd to not be so busy, to not be constantly traveling or writing, two things that have dominated my existence for as far back as I can remember. It’s weird to sit still for once, where you start to realize how much time there actually is in a day.
Over the weekend, I went for a jog through the downtown corridor of St. Augustine. Passing by the old Spanish ruins, I stopped at what was once the north entrance gate built in 1739. By the time that gate was built, the Spanish had already been there for almost 175 years.
I thought of all the things that gate had witnessed: bad weather, brutal conflicts, rampant sickness, but also joyous celebrations, promising sunrises and sacred sunsets. I jogged away with one notion rolling through my mind — nothing is the same, everything is the same. I remain optimistic, always have and always will. Sure, it may prove difficult in the long-haul, but we will overcome and succeed together.
For instance, when “this” is all over and done, we may start thinking about — and perhaps taking more proactive measures — towards: locally grown produce, being more self-reliant, seeing the true value of artists and live music, conservation of natural resources, embracing the beauty of our natural surroundings, appreciation of your neighbors, realizing the good aspects of your community, and realizing the things needing to change in your community.
But, most importantly, this whole thing has truly brought to the forefront the importance of time and “moments,” and of spending time with loved ones. Everything has slowed down in our fast-paced world, if but for this crossroads of modern times, which means we can strip away all the noise and distraction — finally seeing what is essential and nonessential in our daily lives moving forward.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.