I look back at March 6 as Our Last Normal Day. That was the day we became the only community in the Chicago area to pull off a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s been pretty much downhill since then. Our Silver Linings Department has been working 24/7 to find positives in the pandemic.

A recent column in the Sun-Times titled, “Breaking News: Not everything has gone wrong,” boosted my spirits. Mona Charen noted that the stock market didn’t completely tank and wipe out our savings. We still have our lights on, clean water and trash removal. There is still food on the shelves and society hasn’t descended into “Mad Max” chaos.

When the crisis first struck, I was deeply pessimistic. I feared for the safety and financial well-being of our family. I worried about the health of friends and neighbors, and my heart went out to our struggling businesses. It’s terrible to see our favorite restaurants close their doors for good. Other businesses are finding creative ways to survive.

Despite the human toll and financial devastation, we have persevered. I’m proud that Forest Park residents have been safety-minded. This has resulted in our infection rate being lower than many other communities in Cook County.

There are other good signs in our country at large. Teenagers are reporting an improvement in mental health. It’s partly due to the fact they are finally getting the rest they need. I asked an actual teenager how she was coping. She reported that getting out of the house to work at Ed’s Way is helping her stay sane.

The lockdown is even helping marriages. A majority of couples report that the pandemic has brought them closer together. Or, as my wife expresses it, close confinement has proven we can retire together.

But getting back to grocery stores, I’ve never eaten better in my life. Many of us have turned into amateur gourmets, preparing lavish meals, instead of picking up fast food. Thanks to the opening of Chef Gaetano’s Artisan Foods, our homemade cuisine can be tastier than ever.

We’re improving our health in other ways with long walks, bike rides and daily exercise. I received my first-ever flu shot thanks to the kind folks at the Community Center. My grandsons are climbing trees instead of staring at screens.

Speaking of which, we just welcomed our fifth grandson. Now that we have a basketball team, I’m assuming Cole Henry Callaghan will play center. He’s already 20 inches long!

I also have a newborn novel and lift it very carefully so as not to injure its spine. We dreaded the loss of professional sports but the Sox and Cubs were a pleasant surprise, when they briefly flirted with the dream of a “Subway World Series.” The Bears even look like contenders.

Besides watching sports, we’ve had the time to watch some quality TV shows. We just watched The Trial of the Chicago Seven, and I was surprised to see how Fred Hampton was such a key figure. For the less intellectual viewers, we have the Saved by the Bell marathon. We’ve had more time for reading, listening to music and enjoying creative pursuits.

We see kids wearing masks without complaining. It shows that our children are more adaptable than we thought possible. We are grateful for their teachers and other front-line workers, those who keep us safe at restaurants, stores and other public places. 

Maybe the greatest gift we’ve received from the pandemic is a renewed appreciation for the simple pleasures in life. Someday “normal” life will return and we’ll embrace it like never before.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.