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A Different Time

A Different Time

Last weekend—March 7th and 8th, 2020, just a week ago—suddenly feels like a different time.

On Saturday our son brought our grandson and granddaughter over so he could take a long bike ride, and we fed them lunch and played with them until our daughter-in-law came by to bring them home. On Sunday we did a little shopping, in stores with full shelves, smiling staff, and chatty neighbors. Tuesday morning our son and daughter-in-law and the grandkids flew to Phoenix to visit her grandmother, parents, and sister. By the time they get home the day after tomorrow, the world will have changed in a thousand ways, large and small—temporarily, for the most part, but no one knows for how long, or what the lasting reverberations may be.

Karen and I have concerns about protecting the health of members of our family, but they’re no different than anyone else’s. Everyone has parents or grandparents, or a relative or friend whose general health or compromised immune system leaves them vulnerable to this virus. They are the ones we are protecting when we practice social distancing and wash our hands thoroughly every time we return home. They are the ones Karen and I immediately worried about when it became obvious at mid-week that the world around us was changing by the moment.

By the middle of the day Wednesday, we decided that an errand we’d been planning to get to at some point in March—running up to San Francisco to fetch the last couple of boxes of rediscovered family photos from my father’s house—should be completed sooner rather than later. The next morning we packed a picnic lunch and made a surreal run two hours north into the City.

After loading up at Dad’s house, we drove down to Crissy Field, the site of the family memorial we held for him in October, and had our picnic on a bench a few feet from the place where we had gathered to celebrate his life. Joggers padded past. Walkers nodded quiet hellos. At the shoreline, a photographer snapped images of a young woman showing off her pregnant belly a few steps from the spot where in October we had returned a trace of my father to the bay he loved. I let my mind drift into memory for a few precious moments.

Then we turned around and drove home.

Not straight home, though—on a whim, we cut west to meet the coast at Half Moon Bay, and followed the shore all the way back. Absorbing those long vistas, feeling the rhythm of the waves deep inside, surrendering to the elemental beauty of nature, both replenished me and put me—look out, here it comes—in a philosophical mood.

True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” Robert McKee was making a point about how screenwriters should approach constructing situations designed to reveal their characters’ innermost selves. Today we are learning lessons about true character in real life and real time, as circumstances quickly reveal who among us are the selfish, and who, as Fred Rogers memorably put it, are the helpers.

Helpers take many forms. We think first of doctors, nurses, emergency medical staff, firefighters, police officers, public health professionals. They are on the front lines, and they need our support more than ever today. But we can all be helpers in our own way, and those small acts of kindness make a difference, too. Forget about the guy hoarding hand sanitizer in his garage; focus instead on the stranger who shopped for an elderly couple she met in the grocery store parking lot, because they were too scared to go inside. That’s the person we want to be in this new and different time. That’s the true character we want this moment to reveal.

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