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Sheltering

We had guests for lunch. In honor of the occasion, I put on pants with a belt and a shirt with buttons. They’re probably going to be our last guests for a while.

I’m pretty good at social distancing. My ordinary work day has me by myself, and no other human beings within a mile and a half.

Even when I do see my neighbors, there’s typically no hugging, just a wave and a howdy. I’m a Norwegian farmer – my personal space has always been about six feet.

The social distancing does take a hit when my wife is home, but we’ve been sharing germs since 1973, so there’s that.

I write this column about four days before readers see it. Four days is a long time. In four days, the pandemic could be a lot worse or a lot better. The stock market could be up 5,000 points or down 5,000.

We live in confusing times. It feels a little unfair. I have all this turmoil around me, but my life is still pretty good. We have canned food left from last year’s garden, the freezer is full of meat, and I have a bread recipe that requires virtually no skill. The chickens are done with their dark of winter vacation and are starting to lay eggs again. I can’t get all my work done without leaving the yard, but pretty close. I’m worried, of course; almost everyone I know is at least a little worried. I have elderly friends and relatives, friends and relatives with high risk factors, and no one is able to give me solid advice about just how worried I should be.

The craziest part is that the absolute best-case scenario, what we should be hoping for, is that in a couple months we’re all grumpy about turning our lives upside down for nothing. What we should be hoping for is to be moaning about lost money and lost time, as opposed to mourning lost lives.

What keeps coming to mind are the great lines John Updike wrote about the baseball player Ted Williams after his final game, “…the tissue thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

That’s where we are right now. There are so many decisions being made, many of them important and some will turn out to be wrong. And the difference between right and wrong, safe and unsafe, is tissue thin.

And that’s not the only thing that’s tissue thin. I live in a small place, with many small businesses. So far, all I’ve read in the papers is what’s in the works to help cruise ships and airlines, spending untold billions to stabilize the stock markets, and providing funding for sick leave so people can stay home from work if needed. As I write this, I haven’t seen any discussion about how we help all the small businesses who exist on the ragged edge, the tissue thin difference, between profit and loss. If I’m going to stay home like I’m supposed to, I can’t even go shopping locally to help a little bit. It’s frustrating for me - I can barely imagine how frustrating it is for the small businesses trying to balance a checkbook when events far beyond their control have a devastating effect on how much money crossed their counters.

I think when this is all over, we’re going to have to work on extending a little grace to the people making the decisions, try to give them credit for doing their best. And we’re going to need to try and make whole all the people who’ve suffered through absolutely no fault of their own.

That’s what I think.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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