While The Observer was never quite a “people person,” more likely to spend time with characters in books and films than with flesh-and-blood folks unless they’re kin or married into our little circle, we find that we have come to miss shared social experiences quite a bit during this thing, locked down as we are here in The Observatory with Spouse and Junior, two crazy cats and whatever volunteer critters are making those scratching, skittering noises we’ve heard coming from the crawlspace.
Never have we so wanted so badly a fast-forward button that we could press, sacrificing however many months it will take for the world to get back to some backhanded compliment of normal in exchange for the boring life we gobbled up with no more thought than bread as late as three months ago. How sweet a boring Thursday at work would be, we think — one of those days that just piled up and eventually blew out of the mind like leaves. How quickly we would agree to give a year off the end of our life, however far away or near that might be, to return to those days that just coast along behind one another like boxcars rattling across the Plains.
The Observer wants to go to movies and eat over-buttered popcorn seated next to strangers and shush assholes talking to their girlfriends in the dark, and remember the days when it was us who was the one whispering to someone in the halflight from the screen. We want to go to the State Fair and eat a footlong corn dog, even though some moron accidentally brushed his elbow against it. We want a parade, a festival, a congregation, and to be lost in their midst. We want to feel that warmth you feel in a crowd again, that sense of shared experience and shared purpose. We want to drink beer with others, and just be around people having a good time being around people. Say amen if you feel us.
We crave crowded sidewalks and standing in line. We crave people holding the door open, and having an excuse to say thank you to a stranger for their kindness. We long for sitting in packed waiting rooms, and center seats on airplanes. We long for overcrowded buses rushing through the dim nowhere between towns, and packed bleachers on long summer nights. We sit in The Observatory, close enough to UAMS that we can hear the ambulances crying all night and the MedFlight helicopters beating their owl-wing tattoo through the air, ferrying the sick and the dying, and we long to be near strangers, and to have them be near us. When this is over, The Observer swears we’re going to do a lot more of that kinda thing: the going and the visiting and the being together with people we don’t know, just for the hell of it. The best moments in life, we realize now, are so often about just showing up and giving those moments space to happen. We will do more of that when this is all over. We will be marked present and accounted for more often. By then, we’d bet a dollar against a dirt dauber nest that all who survive this will feel like they’ve been raised from the dead. In a way, that is a silver lining, albeit one that is tarnished nearly black.
Over a month now into our personal lockdown, nobody in or out of The Observatory without CDC-approved hand-washing techniques and a thorough wipe down of all foreign objects brought through the airlock from Outer Space — Junior tasked with hauling in, Spouse with wiping down and Yours Truly with putting away — The Observer is haunted by a recurring dream many nights: standing in a huge crowd, unafraid, as the National Anthem plays somewhere in the distance and we all wait for the moment when we can get on to whatever it was we paid to come here to see. That’s it. That’s the whole dream, had many nights running now: a sea of strangers, all of us standing there, our hands so close to hands that they might almost touch, all of us listening to that last note held, the one that goes “… and the home … of the … braaaaave.”
Take care of yourself, brothers and sisters. Wash your hands. Tell the folks you love that you love ’em. Remember to save a thought or prayer for the regular ol’ folks out there risking everything for people whose names they will never know — the doctors and the nurses and the cops and the firefighters, but also the people working a day in the grocery store or pharmacy or drive-thru when they’d probably rather be home, holed up, where it’s safe. Above all, be brave and selfless, as so many of us can be when the chips are truly down. The Observer smiles from afar upon your good works, and will continue to do so until we can all be together again.