March 31, 2020

Worst of times can bring out the best in people

            Silver-haired Margaret Slover was a proper lady, well ahead of her time. Besides being the most revered English teacher on Jesup High’s faculty, she knew better than to touch germy doorknobs, even in 1964. I’ll get to that in a minute.
            One of my educational regrets is that I didn’t sit in her class for at least two years. She was a grammatical wizard. Maybe, just maybe, some of her instruction would have penetrated my teenage brain. Instead, as a 16-year-old, I was more interested in the new car the smartly dressed widow drove up and down Orange Street.
            The rumor was that one of her senior students, Jim Anderson, went to Savannah to drive Mrs. Slover home in her black, stick-shift VW Beetle. If there was another Volkswagen Bug in Wayne County, I don’t remember. But I do recall the afternoon crowds watching her leave school and listening to the English teacher shift through the gears of the rear-engine, dome-shaped German compact. Every time I drove a Beetle—pushing down on the gear stick to go into reverse—I thought about Mrs. Slover.
            Now, let’s go back to those doorknobs.

            I never—repeat, never—saw Mrs. Slover touch a doorknob with her bare hand. Instead, she reached into her patent-leather purse and retrieved a tissue to turn the knob. Whoever sold her Kleenex had a loyal customer. In my crewcut days, I didn’t know what a germaphobe was. These days, we all know.
            When regular gasoline was about 30 cents per gallon for her VW, Margaret Slover was concerned about economy. And decades before this dreaded pandemic has almost knocked the world off its axis, she was cautious about other people’s germs. With the coronavirus threat, I think about the phenomenal English teacher that I never had. I might not remember how to diagram a sentence, but I know not to touch a risky doorknob.
How are you doing in all this?
§  I listened to a friend sob because he couldn’t be at his precious grandmother’s hospital bedside.
§  A friend emailed her angst about not being able to visit her 98-year-old mother in an assisted-living home.
§  I have lawmaker friends who attended the special session of the General Assembly. A senator was infected with the virus. Those friends are now in self-quarantine, praying for the best outcome.
§  I see businesses—large and small—wondering whether they can survive this financial catastrophe.
§  My 94- and 92-year-old in-laws are under the care of hospice. My wife wants to hold more than a cell phone when she tells them, “I love you.” But the possibility of spreading germs is too great.
§  We all read or hear about the daily confirmed cases and death toll rising.
§  A boyhood buddy’s wife just died from cancer. His circle of friends won’t be able to attend her funeral, but how long before we can give him a hug?
§  I find comfort that—even in the worst of times—many people are at their best. You see it everywhere. Strangers are helping strangers.
§  We must keep our faith, our courage, our compassion, our cooperative spirit and our stamina. We must be flexible in our navigation to the other side of COVID-19.
§  This crisis can appear to be overwhelming, but we cannot be overwhelmed.
§  Using common sense and doing the simplest of things—such as safe-distancing and washing our hands—are not optional.
And if Margaret Slover were here, she’d beep her Beetle’s horn and say, “Don’t touch those germy doorknobs.”