THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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The first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season was scheduled to be thrown at 1:10pm Eastern Time on March 26th in New York City, where the Mets were to face the defending champion Washington Nationals. But instead Citi Field stood empty.
Every spring since 1882 umpires have called ‘Play Ball’ to mark the beginning of a new season on the diamonds, but this year those voices were silenced. In the span of a few short weeks life was suspended and upended as the novel coronavirus, aka COVID-19, tore ruthlessly and frighteningly across the globe. Suddenly nothing was the same.
Major League Baseball has had gaping holes ripped in its schedule before. Midway through the summer of 1981 seven weeks were lost to a player strike. Another labor dispute in 1994 stopped the season in mid-August and cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904. In 2001 the season was suspended for two weeks in the wake of the September 11th attacks.
But this feels different.
For a closer parallel in recent – though not exactly living – memory, we have to go back to 1918 and what is known as the Spanish flu pandemic, which infected a quarter of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide between January 1918 and December 1920.
Baseball was largely spared then, as the peak of the pandemic washed over the United States just after a young pitcher named Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series in September and the start of the 1919 season the following April.
America was not spared the disease’s wrath however, as more than half a million people across the country succumbed.
The fact is we have seen global pandemics before. It was always really only a matter of time before the next one came, which makes it all the more agonising that the world was not better prepared. It’s as if we felt better hoping it wouldn’t happen, rather than making sure we were ready when it did.
But now it’s here. It’s the virus’ world we live in for now, and it’s a pretty scary place. Lockdowns, daily death counts, restricted movement, a crushing economic slowdown and a life indoors have become the new normal. Social distancing has become a central tenant of our lives. Fear of what the disease and its knock-on effects could do to our families, our jobs, our friends and our children lies like a weight upon us all.
My wife and I can work from home. We are better off than some, but still at the end of the day I find myself exhausted, like I’m carrying the weight of the world. My news feeds are a never-ending stream of bad news and worse news, and it is literally too close to home. A good friend in London, a GP, and his wife have tested positive (they are doing okay, thank God). My parents are at risk, and I am essentially cut off from them if they should need my support, as are most expats. My brother has been laid off from his job in the hospitality industry with no idea when he’ll be able to go back or even if he’ll have a job to go back to. And on, and on.
And one overriding question: when will it end?
One thing that history can tells us is that it will end. But when the noose feels like it’s tightening and the fear rises up in the back of your throat and the waves of panic threaten to wash over you, it can be hard to think about the other side.
I know full well that everyone has their own battle to fight in this, and that most everyone has an opinion of how to get through it, but here are a few things that I find helpful being cooped up in the confines of our house.
The literally endless stream of 24-hour news regarding virus updates from around the world can be informative but very difficult to put down. It can be easy for the stream of bad news and gut-wrenching stories from the front lines to become simply overwhelming. Particularly bad are the real-time live-updates streams that some sites have which update every minute. Sometimes you have to simply unplug and step back from the phone. Give yourself time to process the information or it will wear you down.
Thank heaven for Spotify. While I get that the Spotify model is not exactly artist friendly, and I miss actually owning the music in my collection, I have to admit that I find having just about every song I have ever heard in my entire life literally at my fingertips divinely scintillating. Whether I want to chill out or blow off steam or float down rivers of nostalgia from various chapters of my life, I find there is nothing like putting on a pair of headphones and turning up the volume.
I have an office job and I work at a desk, so in the best of times I spend way too much time sitting on my posterior. Now that I’m confined to my house the struggle for exercise is very real. One of my strategies to avoid becoming a comatose slug is short, regular busts of micro movement throughout the day. Push ups, squats, burpees, jumping up and down, running circles in the back garden, anything that gets my heart rate up even for a few minutes. With very little space, you can combine moving with listening to music and dance (like nobody’s watching) to get the best of both.
While I am still working full time, and trying to make sure my kids are keeping up with their school work and not spending the entire day in front of a screen, I don’t have as much enforced time on my hands as say someone who is self-isolating. I still find making time for reading to be a good way of putting a wedge between myself and the cares of the world. (For me of late this has been Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and a collection of Dylan Thomas poems.)
The first (but definitely not last) ever Great Webster Bake Off staged between my wife and daughter and my son and me was a resounding success. Not only did we have a great time, we got to eat the yummy results. Everyone was a winner.
Here in Dublin, Ireland, we have been essentially asked to stay inside except for food shopping, and short bouts of outdoor exercise within 2 kilometres of home. We are lucky enough to have a park across the street, the seashore a ten-minute walk away, and a small patch of back garden. Even if you are not that lucky, it is so important to get out for even a few minutes each day and get some fresh air. Fill the lungs, look at the sky, watch the flowers bloom and remind yourself there is a world out there.
It seems a bit corny sitting at a table in your own house with a beer in your hand talking to a bunch of your buddies on a computer screen. Well it seemed corny until a few weeks ago. Now it feels like connecting to a world outside your own walls, maintaining connections with people who mean more to you than you may have realised before. My Tuesday night basketball session has morphed into a weekly video call. It sounds stupid and it is stupid, but the world is stupid right now and just taking some time to shoot the breeze and blow off some steam and be stupid with other people who you don’t live with can be surprisingly refreshing.
Last weekend we ordered pizzas from a wood-fired takeaway place we had been meaning to try for ages. It was like a slice of heaven, a piece of normalcy, a lifeline from the outside world. Buy a juicy steak or a bottle of wine or nice whisky, whatever tickles your fancy. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but these days a little pampering can go a lot farther than you might have imagined.
The weeks are already slipping by since the schools closed and we were told to restrict our movements, and life changed so quickly in so many unexpected ways. It hasn’t been easy, and there is no particular light yet at the end of the tunnel. The reality is that it is most likely going to get worse before it gets better.
Last May when the aforementioned Washington Nationals had slumped to a fairly dismal 19-31 record and the season was starting to look like a lost cause, the team came up with a motto. “Go 1-0 today.” Instead of measuring the season in terms of a single giant entity, or by months or even weeks, they broke things down to a level that seemed more manageable: today.
And against the odds, over the course of the next five months, working together, having each other’s backs, they turned that idea into a tide of momentum that propelled them to the first World Series title in franchise history.
Each and every one of us finds ourselves up against it now. It’s bats**t crazy and it’s hard to process and it’s scary as hell. And there is no way to tell when it’s going to end or if it will end well, or what the world is going to look like on the other side. But it will end. Baseball will be back. Life will be back.
Take care of yourselves. Do your best. Hug the ones you can. Look out for the ones you can’t. And let’s all strive to go 1-0 today.