Merry Puppins Balance 2020

Merry Puppins, a Pembroke Welsh corgi owned by the Reinert family, takes a break while out for a walk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the Summer 2020 edition of Balance magazine.

One random Friday in the middle of March, my entire life changed.

Thanks to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I had been encouraged to start working from home. We took an after-hours trip to our respective offices and gathered what we thought we might need for an expected two or three weeks of telecommuting.

I remember joking about how we should maybe prepare for six or eight weeks. Ah, how naive we were. As I write this, we’re in week 13 of working from home, and we’re expecting to continue this way until the fall.

The first couple of weeks were terrifying. I remember taking my temperature multiple times a day; every seasonal sniffle or scratchy throat a possible harbinger of deadly illness. When losing ones’ sense of smell was listed as an early COVID symptom, I remember smelling things constantly just to make sure I still could.

We tried to leave the house as little as possible. When we absolutely had to go out, we improvised masks from old fabric, because we couldn’t buy real ones anywhere.

I took anxiety medication for the first time in years.

Late March was a rough time, as I tried to keep up with the pandemic data - which went from a trickle to a stream to a firehose, seemingly overnight - while learning what new shape our life at home would take.

Lancaster County had its first confirmed case. Then its first death. Friends of mine in New York tested positive. The virus claimed two lives at the retirement community where my parents live. (While I was sad to not be able to see my parents for holidays or other visits, I was grateful that their community was being careful and proactive, and those two early deaths turned out to be the only ones to date.)

Meanwhile, my wife and I were working from makeshift laptop setups, me in the kitchen and she upstairs. As the time passed, I began to see bright spots in this new life, which still felt like some weird, slow apocalypse.

Having more time at home was nice, actually. We realized we often got more real work done when we were away from all the potential interruptions that come with a shared office space. While our commute had been short, having no commute at all was preferable.

And of course, our dog (a Pembroke Welsh corgi named Merry Puppins) was more content than she had ever been in her life, cheerfully trotting up and down the steps to spend time with each of us alternately, and never having to stay home alone.

As I looked around, I saw bright spots outside our house, too. On sunny afternoons, neighborhood parents would be in back yards playing catch with their kids, instead of at work. Families would sit together on their decks or patios, lingering over burgers cooked on the grill instead of rushing off to evening activities or errands.

One neighbor, whose burly build indicated he likely spent a lot of time at the gym, set up a fitness regimen in his back yard, improvising exercises with a tractor tire, a sledgehammer and some cinderblocks. Occasionally, neighbor kids would stop playing, watch for a moment, and cheer him on.

My wife and I got into the habit of taking long evening walks with the dog, wandering the sidewalks of now-empty shopping centers or the trails of half-deserted parks. We were getting more exercise than at any time in recent memory!

Of course, these bright spots don’t outweigh the horror of a pandemic. In a heartbeat, I’d go back to life before that random Friday in March. Before there was a daily death toll - in the world, the U.S., Pennsylvania, and Lancaster County. Before I had to worry about the most vulnerable people I know, and whether they would survive this. Before I had to worry about whether I would survive this.

But there’s something about the human spirit - or maybe it’s just some silly optimism on my part - that looks for bright spots in dark places; those old proverbial silver linings. In a time of unprecedented worry and fear, I was happy to find them.