It’s the end of the world, and apparently, at least for a few hours today on the coast of California — ground zero of the great American house arrest experiment — everyone felt fine.
My house looks down on Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro and out onto the Pacific Ocean. This afternoon, it was like a beautiful summer day out there: There were dozens of white-winged sailboats on the water, as if for a regatta. The sand was full of people playing, walking, surfing, etc. Weather wise, it was also like a beautiful summer day, or at least like the new spring day it is — a break amid weeks of rain and cold. Looking out on this idyll, it was hard to believe that our entire state is under a legal order to “shelter in place.” Unless, of course, that place is the beach.
Which, in a sense, it is. Where else are people supposed to go? No work, no malls, no theaters, no libraries, no museums, no bowling, no pools. No fun, in the words of Iggy Pop? What is there to do, during this respite from the rain, but go to beaches and parks?
I don’t see groups of more than 10 congregating, as our government has ordered. Some people — though definitely not all — are at least attempting to stay six feet from people they are not with. One couple — but only one — wears masks as they take their dog for a walk, and when they return, the man has lowered his to his chin. Mostly, families are having a day at the beach together: laughing, building sand castles, holding hands. Maybe a day like they haven’t had time for in months, or even years.
It’s tragic that it took a pandemic to make us stop our workaholic habits, but maybe we, as a society, need to pause, rest, and reset. The people walking by my window are happy. They feel fine.
Me, I fled the land. My friend and I went kayaking, keeping ourselves a boat length apart. It was perfect conditions for a paddle: sunny and calm. We said hello to the California sea lions on the howler buoy, all blissfully oblivious of a human pandemic. We floated above the green sea grass and pink coral heads, listening to the waves and the birds. It was quiet, peaceful: No sound of traffic, few planes or boats. The sky was so clear, you could see structures on Catalina 25 miles away. Sure, all that rain scrubbed the atmosphere clean. But fewer commuters means less cars means cleaner air, as other parts of the world have also experienced.
Maybe this isn’t the end, but the opportunity for a new beginning.