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Robert Frost, and later Jimmy Buffet, observed if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane. If that’s true, then the hard times we’re all experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic might just be when we need laughter most.
There is, of course, nothing funny about COVID-19, the disruption it has brought (and will bring) to so many lives and livelihoods, and the isolation it has imposed on us all. Nothing funny at all.
The isolation is in many ways the cruelest verdict. Our instinct as humans, social animals, in times of uncertainty is too pull one another close. Our family and friends, yes, but not only them. All whom we see hurting, and mercy, so many are. Crises historically have been the occasion of some of our finest hours. Yet this instinct is the very behavior that is proscribed. It’s bracing, our inability to embrace.
This means other ways of staying emotionally connected to one another while maintaining social distance take on critical importance. Humor is one way. The coronavirus ruthlessly reminds us we are not in control, although often we think we are.
It makes us recall how it’s not what happens in life that really matters. It’s how we handle what happens. Laughter – the eternal soul’s declaration it is larger than dire bodily circumstance – is the sound of human dignity.
It is in this spirit of reaching those most isolated and afraid that I address mandatory teleworking, the new normal that for many is anything but. Surely those fortunate enough to have their health and continuing livelihood have a duty to be as productive telecommuters as possible. But there’s the rub.
For people like me, working from home for an extended period is easier said than done. My family of seven – five kids ages 9 to 19, plus three needy pets – suddenly finds itself operating under one roof. Hardly a fortress of solitude.
Spoiler alert: Will my family – and yours – prevail? Of course. We’re Americans, 10-and-1 as Bill Murray so famously put it in “Stripes.” We beat the spread at Yorktown in 1781, put a man on the moon in 1969 and stunned the Soviets on ice in 1980. We can do this, too. Still, I hope the following pep talk I recently gave my large brood will help you trade a moment’s worry for a smile:
“Family, it appears we will be hunkering down at home, teleworking and tele-schooling together for the foreseeable future. Ah, home, a place that once seemed bigger than all our dreams put together. No longer.
I know we can discharge our duties, though, because we have suffered through worse together as a family in even closer quarters. I speak of that time mom made us all see “Cats.” We endured that, and we can endure this.
Specifically, I stress the importance of honoring videoconference etiquette as we telework and tele-school. Everyone, and I mean everyone, must remember how many outside eyes and ears are now residents inside our home.
Hope, freshman year of high school can be hard; harder still when someone practices shirtless tai chi in the background during your online Latin class. It won’t happen again, I promise.
This brings up a related point. Try to stake out work and study spots as far from one another as possible. Social distancing won’t just flatten the curve. It’s essential to everyone’s productivity.
If we’re doing it right, Molly, your study of chemistry won’t be interrupted by banal “let’s talk offline” conference call comments by me. Meanwhile, I won’t have to learn about the Krebs cycle all over again.
And no, my sweet daughter, headphones are not a reliable option for me. Only my left-earbud works. With just one ear wired into videoconference, not only are my acoustics compromised. I look like I’m dialing in from the dog track.
In fact, a search for better technology led me to your older brother Joe’s bedroom, who is now attending the University of Virginia online. There I found enough IT-gear to launch a satellite into orbit, but alas, no spare headphones.
Mutual trust is what will make this work. That, however, is a two-way street, and even grade-schoolers must do their part. Finn and Jack, no more arguing over who polished off the Oreos. Who do you think it was, Colonel Mustard? It was me.
Finally, this ship runs on coffee, so whoever gets up first, make enough for everyone. This is not an NPR pledge drive. You cannot simply count on others to step up and do your part. This is morning coffee, serious stuff.
Besides, first awake chooses morning kitchen music, provided it’s not the “Cats” soundtrack. But that goes without saying.
I hope you find something useful in this as you and yours telework and tele-school, however long this disruption takes. I know what you’re thinking: Free advice is worth what you pay for it. Moreover, laughter won’t answer any of the questions that vex us. When will this end? How do I stay safe and provide for my family? All valid.
Laughter does, however, provide reprieve from worry, if only for a moment. And then, in a more lasting way, it reminds us of our common humanity, of our need one another, every last one of us. If we remember this, then when we come out of this coronavirus misery – and we will come out of it – we will not have suffered in vain.