Some thoughts from Tennessee’s patient zero

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

My Alexa requests are getting redundant. Several times a day, she hears the same request from me:


“Alexa, play ‘You’ll Get Through This’ by Martina McBride.”

I know you all understand. It’s not easy being an optimist lately. We are so weary of hearing about the coronavirus yet hanging on to every report. At the same time, we are trying to shift through the overload of information without just irresponsibly pulling the plug on it all.

Our own family is in the “added stress” group because we have a son with family in Seattle, Wash., the epicenter in the U.S., and a son with family in the Nashville area, the epicenter in Tennessee. And yes, I’m in the high-risk category – twice – with age and an underlying condition.

I am spending spring break with my 5-year-old grandson, King, in Nashville, so boredom hasn’t been an issue. Our original plans were turned completely upside down with parks, science centers, zoos and even ice cream shops closed or declared off-limits by parents. Between apps, Facebook Mom Groups, a multitude of existing toys and games and King’s never-on-pause imagination, we have had plenty to do. Monday Fun Day, Terrific Tuesday and Wacky Wednesday are in the books, and we are still filling our list every night.

In the midst of all of this, however, my daughter-in-law Kinsey showed me a just-shared Facebook post from a friend in the neighborhood where they live. It wasn’t news to them, but until these neighbors were ready, most in the area were trying to respect their privacy.

Chris and Holly Baumgartner shared this on their Facebook page and with their neighbors in Franklin. Through Kinsey, they gave me permission to share it with Kitchen Table Talk and KnoxTNToday readers. I am pasting it as written with the exception of deleting the last paragraph, which was kind of an inside joke for the neighborhood that I didn’t want to be misread or misunderstood. There are things to celebrate here, and lessons to be learned.

From Chris and Holly Baumgartner:

“These past few weeks have certainly been interesting, to say the least. My family has not only had a front row seat to the mass hysteria we are now experiencing as a nation, but we’ve also been part of the storyline.

“For those of you who don’t know, I was patient zero in Tennessee. That’s right, I’m the 44-year-old dad in Williamson County, who has a son at BGA, works at Biogen, and has 2 family ‘contacts’ living in my household … who really needs HIPAA anyway, right?

“Many have asked, ‘What has the experience been like?”

Chris and Holly Baumgartner in Franklin, Tenn.

“Physically, my case was on the mild end of the spectrum, and I continue to recover. Mentally, our experience has been all over the board. Imagine having to confront a virus, so feared, it now has the entire world on the brink of mass hysteria, while at the same time, being forced to deal with irrational panic, people demanding to know if you are the ‘one,’ where you live, and if you might have somehow infected their child or family. It’s given us a whole new appreciation for those who live under the cloud of Stigma every single day of their lives. If this is you, please know, you are not alone. We are here for you!

“At the same time, we’ve also experienced human kindness at its very best. We’ve watched an entire community rally behind us in our time of need. We’ve had literally hundreds and hundreds of calls, messages, and texts encouraging us, praying for us, and people pausing from their own challenges in life, to walk through this crazy situation with us.

“They’ve brought us meals, groceries, cards, books and games to pass the time under quarantine, and even drawings, paintings, and handmade get-well cards from their kiddos, (which we have absolutely loved!) These incredible acts of kindness have come from those we know, BUT MANY from those we DON’T know as well, all acting on their own accord. They weren’t representing a specific church or organized group, yet the central message they all conveyed has been the same: You are not alone. We are here for you. Even more… every single act of kindness, every single message, every single call we’ve received, have all ended with the same 5 words: We are praying for you! All. Of. Them!

“What this crazy experience has taught us is this: to find ‘the church’ in our local community, we just have to be the church to our neighbor. (Just for now make sure to stand at least 6 feet away, and wash your hands first, ha-ha).

“Something incredible happens when fear and anxiety are replaced with acts of kindness and compassion, God can be experienced in a whole new way for everyone involved.

“Inside us all lies the ability to decide how we choose to deal with the fear of the unknown, how we decide determines whether fear wins out or humanity shines through. We are so grateful to be surrounded by a community who chose the latter.”

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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