Life has tilted sharply on its axis. Even the vocabulary is different. Social distancing. Sheltering in place. Flattening the curve.
Being sequestered—not just individually, but collectively—is surreal. It’s like a mountain that creates its own weather patterns. Sleep, appetite, mood, mental state, even memories are affected when routines so ordinary we’d forgotten them are disrupted and we’re confined to quarters.
As kids, my best friend, John, and I were inseparable. Our parents were best friends before John was born. I don’t remember ever not knowing him. We grew up on the outskirts of the Mohave Desert in Southern California. Summer temperatures would top 100°F for weeks. When it approached 110°, we were forced to retreat inside.
For active kids on summer vacation, that was real sacrifice. Our neighborhood was within three blocks of a city park. Kids from up to a mile in every direction would congregate there to play ball—all day, every day. We’d play in the morning, go home for lunch, and return to the park to play ball in the afternoon.
But when the heat became unbearable, John and I retreated to my mother’s baby grand piano. That is, we sat on the floor underneath it, across the room from the swamp cooler my father had installed in the window. We played cards there. Read books. Occasionally drew in coloring books.
We never went there except under the duress of extreme heat. But in those times, we headed unerringly to its cool respite. It became a more durable, less structured form of the countless forts we made outside, a sanctuary not only from the conditions we were avoiding, but for the connections we were making with every hour we spent together.
About the time we were getting too big to both fit under the piano, our families moved from the desert to the beach in north San Diego County. We never built any forts there, but by then had created a different kind of sanctuary between us. Invisible. Interior. But unquestionably a safe harbor.
It remains today. John and his wife and family live in the Bay Area. My wife and I are in Seattle. We see each other once a year or so; sometimes more often, sometimes less. It doesn’t matter. Each time is as if it was yesterday, on a living room floor under a piano, on a park ball field, a noisy school bus, or a silent bike ride. It’s still the same.
We’re sheltering in place.