My family is not known for moving fast. With the possible exception of my older son, a pretty decent cross country runner, we lack significant straight-line speed.
We’re even slower in collective action. Faced with a joint decision, my daughter crafts a plan, I and that same middle son argue against said plan, my wife offers an intelligent compromise against which I also argue, and my youngest son thumbs through Instagram.
But set off a tornado siren when we’re sleeping in tents and, by gosh, we can get up and move.
I know this because it happened last week at a campground in Oacama, South Dakota. The weather apps on our phone had warned that a storm was on the way, but in the Miller family, if it ain’t raining, we ain’t really camping. So we snuggled down into our sleeping bags and prepared for six hours of soggy.
I’d barely drifted into dreamland, though, when from the distance we heard the mournful ebb-and-flow of a siren saying, “Get the heck out of your tents, you idiots.” And we did. Faster than a zipper tug, we were sheltered in the campground’s cinder-block laundry room, listening to thunder and watching other people’s sundries tumble around the dryers.
We were camping because we couldn’t be at my nephew’s wedding. And we couldn’t be at my nephew’s wedding because one of our kids tested positive for COVID-19. That kid never showed symptoms and the rest of us tested negative—I now know what it feels like to scrape the inside of my skull with a Q-tip—but we still had to isolate for 14 days.
What’s interesting is how much more urgency I assigned to that tornado siren than I did the Coronavirus. A falling tree can kill me, so I sought safety. I was not a diligent mask wearer or social distancer because, candidly, I’m not all that afraid of getting sick.
But what about others around me? Subconsciously, I was saying screw ‘em.
This weekend, I’m going to do better. There will be thousands of folks about for the Fourth of July. How much does it really hurt to stay a few extra feet away, or to pull on a mask before stepping into a store? Masks and stopping the spread should not become a political issue in Iowa, a state where we’re known for looking out for our neighbors. Surely we won’t allow the screaming polarization on our TVs, as insightful as a toddler’s tantrum, to erode our basic rural decency.
My nephew is named after me. He was there as a toddler the day I got married. He is one of the best, the truest-hearted young men I know. And I missed seeing him kiss his bride. I don’t want to cause someone else a similar loss.
The huddle in the laundry room ended for my family in a matter of minutes. We were back in our tents as soon as the siren stopped.
This virus is different. There is no all-clear signal. The threat travels with us. If we truly believe what we claim here in the United States and in northwest Iowa—in personal responsibility, self-governance, and generosity—then Independence Day is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate those ideals.
Even the Millers can hold fast to that, no argument.