I was cleaning out the car the other day and came across some notes from a March 22 event. I’d spoken at a church service there at the Wrightsville Prison and they were my sermon notes. The sermon was about not being fearful, which was a common public topic at the time. The previous Monday, March 16, is when the cork more-or-less came out of the pandemic bottle.

The morning of March 16 groups were being limited to 50 or less – they told us on the news – and by 11 a.m. that had changed to 10 or less.

By the end of the day the words “pandemic,” “quarantine” and “shut down” were being bandied about.

And yeah, March 16 seems like a day that took place on another planet (two days after my son’s wedding, as a matter of fact). This became all the more so when I saw in my notes for March 22 that Arkansas had (gosh) 118 COVID-19 infections.

One hundred eighteen, seems like a lifetime ago.

(Aside: It was just a day or so after that where they shut down prison access for volunteers, so I haven’t been back since then.)

Funny story, this group I spoke to know me, we get along well, and I usually bring a guitar in with me, a harmonica, and we really get wound up in worship before ol’ Alex gets to laying out some Bible verse and spiritual conectedness. I came in and I was intentionally cutting it close on time – no standing around and talking, it was time for church service – to keep the social contacts down to a minimum.

“No rehearse a song?” “Where’s your guitar?” “What? No harmonica?” was quickly explained away: “There’s a virus thing going around out there.” And they knew it was serious when I refused all offered handshakes, leave alone the bro-hugs typical of that environment.

I had to tread a line. I talked about the COVID thing going around and all, but I didn’t want to start a panic, but I didn’t want to shake hands.

As I spoke, every time someone coughed I flinched internally.

As you saw from a couple weeks ago I’m doing all right. Got through it, at least up to today, intact. Both by age and a less-than-perfect heart I’m in a high risk group, so I’m one of the ones who wears a mask all the time – and am really amazed at the number of people who don’t wear masks, frankly.

I hope those guys from that March on Sunday are doing all right. I haven’t been back in there, like I said, since that day. I know, and we have the statistics to prove it, that the prison environment is a downright petri dish for spreading viral disease like we’re talking about.

I pray for ’em a lot. Not that they’re able to suffer the absence of me, I’m just some guy, but that they’re able to take advantage of this time in a useful way and, sure, draw closer to God from it.

I had those same plans for myself, to really take advantage of this time. It wasn’t long after this when work went to a stay-home mode. “The time of sweat pants” as I will recount it to my grandchildren. Me and the wife just locked down, keeping it to ourselves, in my case increasing my donut intake and sticking with elastic waistbands.

I had plans, finally get that outline for a novel done, really make a serious effort at learning a language, things like that. I didn’t. It turns out the guitar thing saw some improvement. (I think, but with me as a judge I’m already a fantastic musician, you know?)

The banjo and mandolin stuff suffered well for additional practice time as well, so there was that.

But now the confession, the mea culpa. It was during those early times of the great pandemic when we decided to adopt a cat, a stray kitten from a roadside ditch an acquaintance of my wife came up on. My wife had to bottle feed it at first.

It’s bigger now, of course. In fact it’s knocking stuff off the desk as I type this.

It’s a black cat, we adopted a black cat in the first hours of the pandemic. We call it “Kit-A” because cat’s could care less what you name them. Superstition would have it we adopted the bad luck symbol of a black cat just as the pandemic kicked it into overdrive in late March.

Since then murder hornets, civil unrest and, well honestly let’s just hold it there. Some things are just too much to contemplate, on top of a cat knocking stuff off the desk.

So yeah, if you’re superstitious, there’s your point of order: We adopted a black cat, within a few weeks there were murder hornets.

Sorry (not sorry).

Alex Kienlen is editor of the Van Buren County Democrat.

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