The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 1:00 am

Home is where the humor is

Laughter, interaction best antidotes amid coronavirus quarantines

Susan Imler

Months ago, when the word “corona” first crossed my computer screen as an instant message from a colleague, I thought she was suggesting we go for a beer after work.

I got over my disappointment and soon was Googling things like “wet market” and wrapping my head around the idea of a virus that can skip from a bat or a snake to a human. In those early weeks, before “corona virus” and “social distancing” became household words, I got my first glimpse of what scientific data the world had on this budding virus and felt the weight of measured warnings from colleagues who are epidemiologists, economic modelers and researchers. Their job is to understand facts and interpret risk and mine is to help communicate it for the world's largest reinsurer.

The past three months, this position has given me a fascinating front-row seat to watch this crisis unfold and the world's reaction.

This isn't a political comment about our preparedness or lack of testing or how governments could have reacted differently to change the march of this disease. Rather, it's a personal observation as a mother, daughter, employee and friend of how we each respond differently – and each need one another to get through stressful times.

Privately, I've observed people slowly move from “this is overblown” to likely become the same ones who are buying all the toilet paper (can we debate why later?). As a writer, I've struggled with how to separate words such as “pandemic” from “panic.” I've spent evenings on the phone with my Asia colleagues who are far closer to the original front line and charting new territories in working from home, sometimes with multiple generations in one small apartment.

Now the epidemic (as long predicted) has traveled 'round the world and arrived at our front door in middle America with a slow and painful avalanche of public event and school closings as our communities – and people – come together to put caution and sacrifice ahead of convenience. Decisions which we hope will help stem the spread and, if successful, may wrongly validate those who still believe “it's nothing.”

Take my own mother, in her 80s, whom last week I could not convince to stay home because the farm equipment dealer was offering its annual free lunch. Last night she was texting with four exclamation points explaining to me the dangers of this situation, promising me she's not going anywhere. Obviously, Indiana's governor has more sway than her daughter.

From the start, I've flagged this to my own (mostly adult) kids who, frankly, are more used to a mother who blows off a flu shot and abides by the “30 second” rule for food that touches a dirty surface. So you can imagine their reaction when weeks ago I was sending suggestions for proper hand washing. Cue the eye-roll emoji. No surprise, their generation seems to be forming opinions largely from the circulating internet memes and Tik Tok.

I'm not a behavioral scientist, but there has to be a fascinating case study in all of this on how we humans use humor to deal with crises. My medical friends, even as they are prepping to be on the front lines, are sharing memes about what happens when this epidemic reaches summer tick season and we wind up with “corona with Lyme” (disease). My sister, who manages major shopping centers across the U.S., has to laugh at her own set of unexpected decisions, like how to deep clean a mall or cancel the Easter Bunny.

Faced with new adjustments of working from home, people are also turning to their pets for comic relief. I love the dog perspectives, like the one who gets to join a video meeting and believes he's the only thing holding his human's company together (he could be right).

I am grateful God designed us as social creatures, able to lean on one another and find some relief among friends and family – or even strangers in a checkout line. Offer a smile and share a laugh or kindness when you can, but especially now.

For me, after an extraordinary and stressful week, this meant my own “quarantini” enjoyed with good friends and neighbors and children unexpectedly home early from college. Together we could debate why people are buying toilet paper and others go for just a case of wine. Laughter is the best medicine, and as humans we need it and we need each other.

Susan Imler, a Fort Wayne resident, was The Journal Gazette's letter writer of the year for 2015.

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