Re-entry into the sports orbit after a week spent lounging in paradise figured to be welcomed enthusiastically because this was supposed to be the best week on the sports calendar.
Selection Sunday and the start of March Madness. NFL free agency. MLB spring training in high gear. The boys state basketball tournament. The NCAA wrestling championships at U.S. Bank Stadium, highlighted by Gophers heavyweight Gable Steveson's bid for a national title.
Except now silence.
I went to Aruba for spring break with the family and the world changed.
Honest confession: The coronavirus wasn't a major concern of mine as I prepared for my trip. Truth be told, my mind was focused more on Pina Coladas than pandemic. There were only a few reported cases in the country, in different states. I was naive about it.
It was a strange week because I didn't monitor developments second by second, minute by minute like everyone here. I would check my phone occasonally during beach breaks and family time and trying to disconnect in a majestic locale.
Reality hit like a sledgehammer when I checked Twitter midweek and saw that the NBA season was being suspended. And Tom Hanks announced his diagnoses. And more cancellations followed. Suddenly, everybody was talking about social distancing, flattening the curve and toilet paper.
It felt like I was standing on Mars watching something deeply personal go from zero to warp speed in a blink of the eye. Surreal is the best way to describe it.
I grabbed a beer(s) at the hotel bar one night and tried to process everything. My immediate reaction was, I feel bad for the athletes who won't be able to finish their season. The high school kids in the state tournament. Gophers athletes. A senior at Austin High -- Agwa Nywesh -- a wonderful young man who I spent a lot of time with while reporting my project on that town. The wonderfully talented Paige Bueckers from Hopkins. All those kids who play spring sports. So many more.
To be clear, cancelling events is absolutely the right decision, 100 percent. We must listen to the medical experts and follow their guidance. We must be smart in trying to solve this. But it's also OK to be disappointed.
A break from sports will be difficult and challenging. Sports provide us an important outlet. They give us joy, heartbreak, anger. They become a distraction. Heck, they provide me a living.
Shutting off won't be easy. Especially this week. This might be the toughest.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is my favorite week of the entire year. People around the country take vacations this week so they can post up on their couch or favorite sports bar (or Vegas) to watch one game after another, morning until late at night. Employers encounter a lot of "sick" days this week. If you work in an office, you can hear screams whenever there is a buzzer beater or upset that busts brackets. Nothing tops it.
There will be silence this week.
We'll get through this. Being at home provides new opportunities. Life moves so fast between work, kids, acitivities, commute time, etc. that maybe slowing down and pressing pause will become a silver lining in this sad, serious situation.
I've vowed to read a book or two. Family time will increase exponentially. We can have family dinners again. What a novel concept!
People of a certain age will remember eating dinner as a family. My family ate together every night. There wasn't a TV anywhere near our kitchen. If the phone on the wall with the long cord rang, nobody answered. We didn't have distractions. We had us.
My family would sit and talk for 30, 45 minutes, sometimes longer. We'd talk about our day while we ate whatever delicious meal my mom cooked. (Nothing beat her meatloaf or her chili.). Maybe we'd talk about school. Or my dad's work. Or the Braves game from the previous night. Or just family stuff.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to more dinners with my family. We're all bummed there won't be sports to watch afterward, but this will pass. Hopefully sooner and safer than any of us know.