After forwarding a variety of news stories to a friend in Las Vegas on January 21, as an afterthought I texted, “Watch this Wuhan, China event, they’ve shut down a city of over 50 million people. Imagine if that would happen here. First case in the U.S. has just arrived, wash your hands.”

“Eh,” Tyler replied. “These virus scares always turn out to be duds.”

We moved on to other topics. But since then, so much has changed so fast that it’s hard to put into words what is transpiring. For me, the hardest part is realizing that everyday things taken for granted just weeks ago may not return anytime soon–from casual interactions at work to worship services to the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I’ve attended since being jailed for drunk driving (“A Sobering Experience,” March 2017).

Traditionally, AA meetings end with everyone holding hands and reciting the Serenity Prayer or Lord’s Prayer. The hand-holding ended in early March. Then, as the reality of people testing positive and dying sank in, everything went virtual.

The Alano Club set up numerous online meeting options. But along with Zooming, the shutdown introduced another new term to our lexicon: Zoom Bombers, individuals who crash virtual meetings to lob expletives and derisive comments at the attendees.

These reckless antics suggest the workings of aimless teenagers huddled in basements. But they do real harm. When xADrecovery groups have to require passwords to enter meetings, they also make it harder for people who need to be there. Particularly now, as forced isolation can lead to increased alcohol and marijuana consumption, those with additional burdens of addiction need more contact with others, not less.

It’s eerie watching history happen in real time, with no sense of how it will end, or even what an ultimate return to normalcy will look like. But connecting with others does make the isolation less, well, isolating.

On my birthday, more people replaced the generic thumbs up or perfunctory “happy birthdays” on Facebook with texts or calls. Friends I haven’t talked to in decades got in touch to revisit better times from our shared pasts, ending our conversations with the hopeful refrain to “stay safe.” Especially for people struggling with addiction issues, such reaching out may be the gift that turns someone’s isolation and fear into a sense of renewed hope and optimism.

My conversations with Tyler, currently unemployed, now focus mainly on the pandemic–when it will end and how it will affect us in the coming weeks and months. Uncertainly permeates our discourse.

This “virus scare” has turned out to be anything but a dud. Stay safe.