I sat in the cold water of an inflatable swimming pool on a blisteringly hot summer July afternoon with high humidity added in for fun. At the other end of the pool, my wife, Laura, reached out with her feet to brace herself against mine to prevent slipping. As she eased her head back and closed her eyes, I felt her toes playfully tickling mine.
That tickling, filled with implication, is hard to explain in this time of worldwide trial due to COVID-19. I replied to her quietly, every word filled with purpose, “It doesn’t get better than this.” You see, my wife and I were madly caught up in “Our Lockdown Love Affair.”
We had just finished a well-ridden bicycle ride of 40 miles on a rolling course that tested us to the core and were now soaking our aching bodies. As crazy as this might sound, the fact we were happily punishing ourselves with heat indexes soaring over 100 degrees is another mad-about-you sign of lockdown love.
We agreed to never mope or bemoan our lives. Others were dying. Essential workers were nearly killing themselves from endless hours saving others throughout the world. We chose to attack the lockdown.
The shutdown did hurt. My photography career for Kansas Athletics ended abruptly just as the schedule was reaching my favorite time of the year. Book sales collapsed. Thoughts of fund-raising for my state-wide project on sports in Kansas seemed foolish given all the uncertainty. Laura had to find a way to keep the swimming & diving and rowing student-athletes on point with their classes online and their studies many miles from the KU campus.
Fortunately, our work lives coincided so much at KU that we often seemed joined at the hip. Once Laura set up our kitchenette as her office, we never had issues. She Zoomed and called her student-athletes unfailingly. The GPA of 3.70 for rowing, along with an all-time department record 3.95 for swimming & diving, confirmed the efforts’ worth.
I began to photograph a variety of sports and the people who loved playing them. I stayed local and followed all health protocols. The surprise was how welcomed and appreciated I became at every event. Enough Kansans believed in my project that I knew quickly that I am far from retired from my photographic life.
While photographing a coach-pitch/tee ball game in June with four and five-year-olds gleefully taking the field, the coaches allowed me to roam the diamond. I left my phone with Laura as she relaxed watching grandson, Luke, swing away. When a call came from Ritch Price, the KU head baseball coach, she quickly answered.
It was my last official day at KU, and my friend wanted to check on me. Laura told him what I was doing. He roared with delight over the fact I was only looking forward, which naturally included baseball. I have always believed our friendship was a gift from God. His phone call was a perfect way to begin my new life.
Both grandsons have helped make the shutdown very special even as they leave us wasted at the end of a day when they finally head back home. Known as the “active grandparents,” either together or by myself, the boys are kept moving. BMX bike racing. Trail and single track riding. Nature walks in search of “mountain lions.” Goalie time in the house as a small soccer ball is rocketed towards our brick fireplace goal. Balance boards, slacklines, rowing erg and workouts in our basement “pain cave” allow us to not feel guilty about time on their iPads.
Jake is eight. Luke is five. They are the classic examples of brothers. Both have widely different interests and argue and fight over the smallest misstep. Yet, they have moments of such wonderful interplay that only brothers can share.
While we enjoy our “therapy” pool, the boys test its structural limits with their antics in the pool. Without a doubt, the best money we spent all summer. Jake loves water and misses his time at the city pools. He makes up for it by floating on his back for nearly 15 minutes at a time or donning a face mask and snorkel for “deep sea” searches. This will undoubtedly lead to scuba diving lessons for all.
Meanwhile, we have cycled 80-100 miles a week, walked, lifted weights, cooked at home and limited takeout. Laura believes she is in the best shape of her life since her basketball career at Oklahoma. It is a blessing to live in the oft-scoffed-about state of Kansas, where the pandemic’s toll, while still awful, seems minimal compared to other states. Protection and wise decisions have been paramount for us.
We have always tried to have fun. We watched our weekly church service online for most of the summer and thanked the Lord for the challenges. We pray for world relief from the pandemic. The fun was the harsh reality that while singing a cappella, our voices were pathetic.
The five months spent at home led to long conversations and heightened intimacy in a time when some are struggling over time together. Is it fair that in these trying times, our marriage has only grown stronger? With the Lord’s grace and mercy, yes.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12.
Laura returned full-time to her office as August faded into September. She polled her student-athletes. Their responses were nearly unanimous for her return. These young people made it clear in their comments that they wanted someone with whom they could talk this all through.
I returned from photographing an early morning high school football practice after Laura packed up her computer and files and returned to KU. She left me a touching note, but the sight of her small make-it-work office, now empty, left me crying.
No longer can we simply cry out from our work areas to each other. No longer can we hug each other as quickly. Planning our free time will become more difficult.
Time for another adjustment. I pray this one will go as well and as safe for both of us. The last one proved how much we love each other. This one will be filled with new challenges through our callings.
May we always remember that we stand together and that third strand is our Savior. Blessings to you all.
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