Heinen: What separates us keeps us together

Working from home was never something to which I aspired.

Neil Heinen in his home office with his dog MacaroonWorking from home was never something to which I aspired. I understand its appeal on some level — there are the obvious advantages of a more “relaxed” work environment. But these last few weeks have sealed the deal. I’m not a work-at-home guy. Except I am. I’m writing this from my office/studio in the basement of my home. It’s the same space in which I write and record, for now, my daily WISC-TV broadcast editorials.

I am amazed by the courage, dedication and heart of those who must continue to be in proximity to others to perform the essential work they do. But like many of you, I am heeding the advice of the experts and the smart strategy of my company and I’m working from home. And it has changed my perspective in so many ways.

Life while sheltering at home reveals itself in layers. Daily rhythms are disrupted and then re-created. Each morning I get up to find the Wisconsin State Journal and The New York Times at the end of the driveway. I swear delivery is more reliable, even earlier, than it was during normal times. For someone who values newspapers as much as I do, this is a wonderfully comforting way to start days like these, and I appreciate our delivery person more than ever. Make that delivery people.

My wife Nancy and I take food very seriously. We respect it and enjoy it. Our usual meal preparation routine often requires visits to multiple markets each day. The delivery of food to our door, and the quality of the food we’ve been able to get is extraordinary. The people making it and shopping for us and then delivering it are going above and beyond. We’re also supporting small businesses as they’ve had to rely more heavily on online orders and distribution of their products by mail. Our order with Carr Valley Cheese in La Valle came with a small cheese gift that was as uplifting as it was unexpected. An order from Heritage Foods came with a gift as well. Small gestures like that make a big impact.

And then there’s the deeply human element that has become such an important part of our experience of social distancing and flattening the curve. We are meeting our neighbors in ways we never have before. From opposite sides of the street we’re waving, talking, smiling, consoling and supporting one another. All of this is happening because we’re all out walking and walking and walking. Walking is the new national pastime.

On one walk a neighbor tells us of an elderly woman living alone a block away whom they’re helping. By the end of the conversation, we know each other’s names. On another walk a father asks his young son if he waved at us. The boy waves and we wave back.

Colorful chalk drawings on seemingly every block are creative, funny, sweet and disarmingly profound.

Right now the most recognizable face of life in a pandemic belongs to a dog. Not everyone has one but it seems like it. Dog jokes have surpassed toilet paper jokes, thank heavens. I’m sure glad we have our dog, Macaroon, in our lives. But be it a dog or a Zoom meeting with family or friends, an online yoga class or, in my case a guitar, we’re all discovering things to get us through.

For reasons I don’t completely understand I seem to be as busy as always here in the basement. But at 5 p.m. every day I join Nancy and Macaroon for an afternoon walk, and then I come home, plug in a guitar, put on some JJ Cale or Van Morrison and try to play along. I reflect on the day and a recurring thought, that needing to stay apart might be bringing us together.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine and WISC-TV.