Virus isolation hasn’t changed my life much. Instead of staying home and guarding my toilet paper, I head out before dawn to Maine’s southern coast for first light. Seldom do I see people, especially in February and March, so social distancing is easy. Until recently, I had few photos of that area but I have a prospective customer interested in buying some. Even without a buyer, however, there are worse ways to spend time. All of Maine’s winding coastline is beautiful.

It’s been cold, though, and gloves make camera adjustments difficult. When the wind is blowing, my eyes tear up, but the natural beauty all around me more than compensates for those discomforts. In pleasant surroundings, it’s easy to avoid thinking about the virus changing our entire way of life. Will it ever return to normal? I don’t yet know anyone infected but I probably will soon.

After several hours, I’m back home downloading dozens, sometimes hundreds of images for editing, and that can take the rest of the day until dinnertime. My wife occupies herself making quilts for the grandchildren and listening to various psychologists lecture on YouTube. She’s a psychotherapist and she can multitask like that. I cannot, as my mind can focus on only one thing at a time. Soft piano music won’t distract me while I edit, but nearly anything else will.

I like to venture out before dusk and capture twilight as well. As public reaction to COVID-19 progresses, there’s almost as much solitude at dusk as at dawn. Some are out walking but careful to keep a safe distance. We nod to each other and there’s a shared, unspoken sense that we’re all in this together. My wife goes into Shaw’s or Hannaford at Mill Creek in South Portland in the early morning during their designated times for older people like us to get what we need.

We seldom go out to restaurants, anyway, so those restrictions don’t affect us. We have all we need and my wife enjoys cooking. I do, too, but not as much as she does, so my job is clean-up. We watch Special Report, the news, until 7 and then streaming video, or just read. The thing we miss most is seeing our grandchildren. We don’t want to infect them and they don’t want to infect us.

We have some fear, however. Two of our daughters are nurses. Both are gearing up for that they see as an inevitable onslaught of seriously ill patients — too many for whom to provide adequate care. Minimizing that scenario is why government wants to “flatten the curve.” One daughter is an ER nurse who just arrived at her new assignment in Portland, Ore. The other has been pressed to staff an emergency ICU here in Maine for 12-hour shifts, alternating days and nights for the duration of this crisis. Though neither has said so, I think they both fear being forced to decide who gets care and who does not.

Can people stay home indefinitely? Some jobs are essential, like health-care workers, police, fire and rescue, keeping the electricity grid running, delivering fuel and others, but small businesses can only be closed so long before collapsing. Most of us expect to get the virus eventually, but how long will flattening the curve take? We’re all going to die of something, someday, and we prefer the dying be limited to the old and sick as much as possible. It’s better to lose grandparents than grandchildren. Writing in National Review the other day, Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) suggests that flattening the curve may put so much stress on our economy that it cannot recover. Where will we be then?

This fear thing is real and must be addressed. President Donald Trump was criticized for an exchange with NBC’s Peter Alexander. After snarky remarks accusing Trump of trying to “put a positive spin on things” and “giving the American people a false sense of hope,” Alexander asked, “What do you say to people who are scared?” By that time, the president was so pissed at the snark that he called Alexander a terrible reporter. It was a missed opportunity for Trump to acknowledge people’s fears and speak to them. Hostile media outlets broadcast only Alexander’s last question and Trump’s angry response. As intended, it made for a terrible sound bite damaging to the president.

Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” How many Americans have been forced to do that lately? It’s not a problem for introverts like me, but then, the room in which I sit alone is in a house with other rooms, and I’m aware that my wife, also an introvert, is sitting in another. I know she’s aware of me as well.

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at

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