Dave Paxton

For a long time I thought the coronavirus was a joke. Overblown by a national media wanting to bring down President Trump. I still think part of that is true. But I’m not laughing.

Our local, state and national leaders are doing what they think is best for the welfare of the nation and it’s a whole lot like being kicked in the head by UFC star Gregor McConner. My better nature is to be upbeat and positive. I also had enough “bench” time as a wannabe athlete in high school to have developed a sort of bulldog, you can’t beat me attitude.

But there are times during the day when I feel pretty well defeated, particularly in terms of what appears to be a substantial business set back. It’s been less than a week since the NCAA cancelled the Big 10 and Big 12 tournaments, March Madness and the national wrestling tournament. At some level I feel badly that I am so shallow that not watching sports on TV is ruining my life.

Particularly when I stop and consider somebody like Albia’s two-time state champion wrestler Carter Isley who battled almost three years of injury to finally earn a trip to the national wrestling tournament, only to be denied a chance to compete. But sitting these nights at home watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and reading another David Baldocci novel instead of the top men’s and women’s basketball teams in the nation, makes me fidgety. It makes me grumpy.

Want to talk about self quarantine? As an avid viewer of Fox News I have imposed strict limits on what I watch. It’s not good for my mental health. I look at the stock markets once at noon and once at the end of the day. I get the weather from Jerri Ann Ritter around quarter to six in the morning. My wife and I watch the taped version of “The Five.” And that’s about it.

I told my wife that this whole COVID-19 disaster is giving me a taste of retirement, since for the first time in 40 years I haven’t had to work three or four nights a week covering sports or other meetings. And frankly, I don’t like it. I almost felt privileged on Monday night when I was the only “citizen” allowed at the Albia City Council for the entire meeting. Everybody else wanting to speak had to pop in and out.

I’ve only got about four months to complain about working nights as a community journalist. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to hear a single beef coming out of my mouth once this thing burns through itself.

I suppose I should be grateful that I can spend added nights at home with my wife. The first night sans Big 10 and Big 12 basketball, my wife took me to a really good movie (before those closed). The second night I paced and finished a Baldacci novel. I’ve now started another but I’m so mentally spent by the end of the day, I simply want to crash in front of our woodburner.

As the weather warms, I have a couple of old car projects to keep me busy, but it isn’t the same as watching my granddaughter compete in track, rehearse with the Albia Community Choir or attend a music concert. I’ve led this full to overflowing life wrapped up in the community and it’s like getting planted in the desert with a thimble full of water to quench my thirst.

I don’t know what it’s like in the city and I don’t know what it’s like in communities our size with people who don’t engage. This talk of social distancing makes me crazy. The people I hang with are wired to socially engage. We sit with each other in the stands at football and basketball games, we sell popcorn with each other at our community-owned theater. We pray for each other, sitting side by side in the pews. A number of us sit and scream at the television together at a local watering hole as NASCAR whizzes by or Gregor McConner beats the crap out of somebody. We sit near each other at local diners and we attend the funeral visitations of friends and relatives and relatives of friends. Nursing homes are not warehouses for the elderly. It’s where our parents and grandparents live and where the parents and grandparents of our friends live.

There is much in my life involved with quiet and solitude. I take my yellow lab for walks in the woods and around my pasture and it is good. Typically I lift weights and do strength resistance training a couple of times a week alone. And it is good. I rarely have more than one person working with me as I tinker with a 1951 Chevy pickup and a 1973 Jeep CJ5. I like to be alone, working at my own pace, discovering my own mechanical misadventures.

But mostly I like being around people. They feed and energize me. They give me stories to tell and tell me stories. It is their epic faith and family stories that keep me energized.

But here we are, waiting to come out on the other side. A single piece of scripture (1Thess. 5:11) jumped out at me as I was seeking some solace earlier this week. “So therefore encourage one another.”

Coronavirus has not quarantined our telephones, it hasn’t stopped our ability to e-mail, Skype or write letters. We can still stand six feet apart on the sidewalk and offer words of hope and encouragement. We can work at not allowing this thing to isolate and thus diminish our power as a community.

Clearly, those of us in business are going to be poorer in the pocketbook. And there will be financial struggle for people temporarily losing their jobs, particularly at restaurants. But we don’t have to accept being socially and spiritually bankrupt. Start carving out portions of your day to write notes and e-mails of encouragement (specifically to people you know in nursing homes). Use the time you’d spend watching March Madness to speak on the phone to friends and relatives. We’ve got time to stay connected through snail mail, e-mail, telephones and social media.

Almost 40 years ago I got some life-changing advice from a young pastor friend during a time of personal beat down. “Don’t let the bastard steal your joy,” he told me.

It’s advice I’ll pass on to all of you, my friends, concerning COVID-19.

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