I distinctly recall being perched on the couch in the living room with a thermometer in my mouth when the voice coming from the television speaker made the announcement that changed everyone’s life: “We interrupt regularly scheduled programming to bring you this news bulletin.”
The regularly scheduled programming being interrupted was “Cartoon Carnival.” I was watching it because I was home from the second grade with what had been diagnosed earlier in the day as Tonsillitis. I remember being annoyed, initially by how long it was taking to determine the degree of fever I had, then by the notion that I wouldn’t get to see the end of my cartoon.
Instead, I was party to the end of the world.
At least, that’s how it felt the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That’s certainly how many reacted to the news. Turns out, it wasn’t the end of the world – just the end of the world as we knew it …
Per my custom, I was listening to the radio in my office that September morning in 2001, when my favorite sports correspondents gradually evolved into my favorite news correspondents. They initially veered off the sports road when one of them said he just heard an airplane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York. By days end, they were chronicling a second airplane-crash-related incident, and then a third. And then a fourth. They didn’t relay the news as journalists; they were simply stunned Americans talking to fellow stunned Americans, who gradually were coming to a stark realization over the course of the day: This is the end of the world as we knew it …
I had the flu a couple of weeks before this issue went to press. Of course, a couple of weeks before this issue went to press was not the ideal time to discover you have a cough, fever and a severely aching body. Those are the symptoms of another, much more daunting malady, the one that, at press time, had infected more than 350,000 people world-wide and killed 15,000-plus of them. By the time you read this, both those numbers will be much higher.
Of course, by the time you read this, you’ll likely be doing so from somewhere in your home, because the COVID-19 outbreak has virtually closed the world – and represented the end of it as we know it …
Ironically, it will be easy to recall where you were when this latest “end” occurred. We’re all there, at home, right now, constricted by another dark presence that is redefining convention.
But, as was the case the first two times we were stopped in our tracks, we will grieve and recoil and fret for a while – then we will move forward. We will clasp hands with our neighbors and move forward. It’s what we do.
In fact, it’s who we are.