Anna, age 39 and Jack, age 47, have been married for ten years. They have two children: Mason, age 6 and Ariel, age 8.
When Anna and Jack met, he was just starting a local landscaping service. In the robust economy, his business grew. Anna took care of customer service and bookkeeping while enjoying being a stay-at-home mom. They had a modest income, and always took pride in how clean and well-maintained they kept the rented house.
That year, a deadly new virus swept through the world and suddenly and without warning, life as they knew it changed.
As each day passed, news became increasingly grim, not only for the world, but Jack and Anna’s personal lives as more restrictions were set, and customers delayed or cancelled services.
The government, trying to contain what potentially could become a repeat of the Spanish Flu in 1918 (killing 50 million worldwide) began extreme lockdown measures.
A shelter-in-place order was issued restricting all activities, except for life-supporting essential ones for individuals: essential service jobs, obtaining food, medicine, care of others, and exercise.
The experts assumed, based on history and knowledge of viruses, if they could limit people’s interactions, even casual ones, they could limit the rapid spread and hopefully save a lot of lives. This was an unprecedented move that had far-reaching implications. They were flying blind in a fast moving storm.
They needed to buy some time to get a handle on this new unknown threat or, based on data, it would be 1918 - or worse - in a very short time.
Loyal customers contacted Jack, and with great regret, explained that they would have to stop services, assuring Jack that when the shelter-in-place order was lifted, they would bring him back. He was confused as he thought his service was essential for safety and health.
As Anna and Jack watched their modest savings dwindle, they made cutbacks to all unnecessary expenses. They cancelled their cable TV, began reducing electricity, water, and gas usage, cut back on insurance, and cancelled their second phone. Wearing sweatshirts in the house became the norm that winter.
They also modified food, focusing only on essentials. Luckily, no one in the house had health restrictions that required a specific diet. Mason had asthma and was a picky eater so it was a challenge as her favorite foods disappeared from stores. When Mason cried her asthma increased. Anna kept her inhaler close by at all times.
Jack still had customers that agreed to let them service their yards, and, desperate to feed his family, was grateful for the work.
Jack tried to consolidate the few customers left to reduce his exposure to the virus, and help Anna with the kids who were now at home all day due to school closures.
A few neighbor’s (all Jack’s customers in this one subdivision) were going stir-crazy and decided there wasn’t any harm in having a very small BBQ outside if everyone stayed at a distance. After all, they all lived in close proximity and none of them were showing signs of illness. They talked about how tragic it was that one of the association’s maintenance workers who had been working on their shared fences had contracted the virus and became one of the first citywide victims.
Everyone had a great time at the BBQ and loved just hanging out, even though hugs and high fives were reserved for the future.
Jack arrived in the subdivision first at Olive and John’s house. Olive, a retired teacher, and her husband John, a retired business owner, always gave Jack some of their fresh-picked oranges; Mason’s favorite fruit. With food and income shortages, it was especially appreciated now.
Jack went down the street to Max’s house, a widower and retired CEO with a beautiful stately home. Jack laid their pristine lawn five years ago when Venessa and Max, high school sweethearts, hosted their daughter’s garden wedding reception.
The mower hummed and Jack made quick work of the small plot, picking up a few toys along the way. Max opened the curtain. He and his two grandchildren waved at Jack, and closed it again. They were trying to follow the social distancing rule.
Jack went to the mailbox - as he always did as a courtesy to his older client - pulled the mail, and a five dollar tip, and walked the mail to a metal container near Max’s front door. It was the same routine for the last five years. Jack always tried to go above-and-beyond; one reason his customers loved him.
He walked over to Ally’s next, quickly mowed, ran his hand over his sweaty forehead, then covered his mouth as he coughed from dust, and leaned against Ally’s car door as he took a sip of water. He waved goodbye to Max’s grandsons as they opened the front door next door and grabbed the mail and toys on the porch.
Before Jack headed home, he thought he would take a drive prior to being sequestered in the cramped house for the next week with his wife and kids.
He drove to an empty local park, got out and sat on a bench and enjoyed a few moments of quiet; not a soul in site at the moment and he relished the serenity. He peeled an orange and wiped dripping juice on his pants. Grabbing the bench he pushed off and jumped back in his truck. He left an orange on the bench in case someone “out there” was hungry.
On the way home, he saw two homeless men sitting on the side of the road with a cardboard sign begging for help. He stopped and gave them the five dollar tip he had in his pocket, even though he couldn’t really afford it, his faith always taught him to live generously. He also shared a few oranges. He made an effort to only crack the window.
Max woke early to a quiet house, and suddenly felt extremely ill. His Afib was out of control, he was hot, and short of breath. In a moment of clarity, he grabbed his phone to call his son, only to find the battery dead. He passed out and died, but not before lying for hours on the cold slate floor in a conscious-altered state gasping for air and bleeding from a gash caused by the fall. He lived alone. His son Sam lived in the next city and the grandkids went home Saturday night after their monthly visit.
Max’s grandchildren thankfully never got sick, but their dad, Sam, did. A fit athlete (except for Type 1 Diabetes), Sam was alarmed when he became violently ill. He was no longer able to take his shift as a local EMT.
Testing positive for the virus, he was extremely upset. He had taken every precaution he knew to try and avoid getting sick. He quarantined himself from his family, praying it wasn’t too late. All of the patients he had been in contact with in the prior fourteen days, including first responders - medical personnel, police, tow truck drivers - all were now at risk of direct exposure to the virus and notified.
The last Friday night while on duty, A local high school star-athlete crashed his bike. Sam’s crew transported him to the hospital. Wednesday the teen became ill with the virus and would need life support.
Ally drove to pick up her high blood pressure medicine after Jack left. She also fell ill within a few days after Jack serviced her home.
Jack slept in. Anna made breakfast, but Jack wasn’t hungry. The taste of food wasn’t appealing and he was extremely tired. He brushed it off as just too much stress.
Mason woke up that morning with a fever and her asthma began to worsen. Her inhaler ran dry and she began wheezing. Anna rushed Mason to the local ER, hoping that going midday would be safer since the ER always seemed full at night. She dreaded taking her there, but had no choice.
Jack stayed home with Ariel to keep her from being exposed to the ER. They admitted Mason with oxygen. Anna wasn’t able to stay beside her weeping child due to the risk of the virus. She sat down on a bus bench outside her crying daughter’s hospital window desperately texting Jack about the agonizing situation.
Meanwhile, Jack started feeling ill.
Jack died with his wife by his side at home.
Mason died alone in a hospital bed in an induced coma. Her broken mother watched through the foggy glass, little Ariel by her side, as Mason took her last breath.
Anna and Ariel never fell ill.
They were possibly asymptomatic carriers of the virus they were later told. They stood alone in tears at the graveside of Jack and Mason, clutching a small Bible and begging God for comfort and guidance.
Anna’s family back home were beside themselves with grief as no one could be there to help. Anna came to the USA from a small Eastern European country as a teen.
Anna had always been healthy and fit, as had Jack, so insurance wasn’t particularly an urgent need. The times she went to a walk-in clinic, it was for Mason. The out-of-pocket cost was much more affordable than premiums.
Today families everywhere mourn people like Jack, Mason, the teen athlete, Max, AIly, and so many others who literally touched the lives of those with the virus.
Imagine how different this story could have gone if Jack had sheltered in place.
Imagine how lovely the world would be if Jack’s customers had sent him a few months of unearned income as a gift, and just let their lawns grow tall (or dug out the dusty rotary blade mower and did the work while they sheltered in place).
We live in the USA where our freedoms were bought at a high price. Today there may be some who will rationalize the need to exercise that freedom.
At what cost to other’s?
A year later, after the crisis was over, an attorney contacted Anna to suggest a lawsuit for compensation due to Direct and Proximate Cause. He insisted that he would be able to get money for her and Ariel from her from their customers’ home owners insurance if he could prove the customers were culpable. “Every state has premises liability laws that require property owners to do everything reasonably possible to protect visitors from situations that could lead to injury'.
Today if you are sheltered in place, be safe and care enough for your family, friends, and possible finances to do all you can to help people like Jack, Anna, and their two girls have a happy and long future.
A story for the wise.
A joke for fools.
By Laura Wrede