Time to Get Off the Bench and into the Peanut Gallery

commentary editorial opinion

Nick Reiher

I debated writing about this or how to write about it since I might be considered a whiny beeyatch. Or more so, anyway.

But, after seeing a “Far Side” meme on Facebook today, I took it as a sign from above.

One of the “long-haul” effects of COVID – whether you had it or not – is reintroducing yourself into mainstream daily life. All that – from simple coffees to weddings and funerals – were put on hold for at least a year; sometimes stopping and starting, depending on the “numbers.”

I have two close relatives who moved during the height of COVID into new digs in new towns. There was no opportunity to meet new people – neighbors, anyone, really – since contact was so limited.

Though the pandemic has passed, they still struggle to meet new people, as those people got back into their normal routines, something my relatives never had the chance to establish.

Me? I didn’t move too much during the pandemic. Many of the meetings I attended in person now were on Zoom or some such platform. So, I would move to my “office” – one of the recliners in our living room – while my co-pilot, Kayley the pup, snoozed in the other one.

With virtual meetings, I was able to keep business with Farmers Weekly going, even after my wife, son and I all caught COVID. I got used to being able to multi-task as I watched meetings, maybe writing or answering emails. Getting a snack for myself and the co-pilot. Making rude comments and faces during some of the meetings.

Virtual meetings make it a lot easier for me to get much done, especially on deadline day. I don’t have to run to the County Building, sit through several hours of discussion, watching the time constantly.

But I lost a lot of personal contact during that time. Even now, as I continue to use Zoom meetings to make my life easier.

I gained a lot of friends on Facebook during the pandemic. I don’t know if that was my way of reaching out for some kind of personal contact. But I have a lot of friends on Facebook. Nearly 1,000. I’ve met maybe half at some point in my life. The others are friends of friends of friends.

Good people. I’ve had to dislocate only a dozen or so, mostly for dissing my family, whom they never have met. The rest share photos of kids and pets, recipes, and an increasing number of good times shared with their friends.

I’m not in a lot of the latter. To be fair, I haven’t gone out of my way to do many fun things, even in the past year. My regular golf partner is on injured reserve. Others can’t always get away for coffee, breakfast or lunch on my schedule.

I miss my friends. I hold nothing against them having fun again, traveling, partying, that sort of thing. Sometimes, I still look at the clock to see if it’s late enough to put on my jammies.

But I miss my friends. I miss the handshakes and hugs. The in-person laughter and sharing stories and meals. Or just a cup of coffee and a donut while devouring some juicy gossip.

After feeling sorry for myself for a few months too long, I applied to and was welcomed in to the Kiwanis Club of Joliet.

The late, great Ralph Sherman had been after me to join Kiwanis for years. But I held off. I had a bad experience with another club a decade or so ago, and I wasn’t ready.

Former Plainfield School Board member and longtime friend Mike Kelly then started in on me while we solved the world’s problems during breakfast at the Southern Café in Crest Hill. After his sister, Beth Ann Laken, a Kiwanis member, also passed recently, it was as if someone was saying, “What are you waiting for?”

There are so many friends already in the group. As I looked out when asked to speak at one of their meetings, I think the only two I didn’t know were the students they were honoring that day.

And they meet in one of my favorite places: The Gathering Room of the Jacob Henry Estate. I have loved that intimate room ever since the late Ken Pritz showed me his vision for the space.

I don’t plan to just turn up for lunch though. When I join something, I go all in. I have some personal responsibilities in the next few months. After that, I’m ready to serve.

Wish me luck.

Peanuts anyone?

Oh, the “Far Side” meme? It showed a casket and a near-empty viewing room with a woman telling another woman in back: “He had 1,000 friends on Facebook. I thought there would be more people here.”



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