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Don Cunningham: Stop and Watch the Chipmunks

By Colin McEvoy on June 3, 2020

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on June 3, 2020. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

Sometimes it’s okay to have things stop.

It forces us to find something in the silence. The absence of motion seems to heighten the senses.

As with everyone, these months of pandemic and quarantine have forced a stop, a grounding, an anchoring to home. It may just be a commentary on my professional life for the last 25 years, but I’ve learned when there’s nowhere to go we better discover where we are.

The unnoticed or unseen becomes noticed and seen.

It’s odd how a pandemic that has wrought so much death, anxiety and economic pain can return us to a simpler life, one I haven’t lived since childhood.

I’ve spent entire evenings playing a board game. Ate dinner every night at home with my family for months. We sit down to watch a television program together with popcorn.

I’ve been watching chipmunks and squirrels take over the backyard.

You ever watch a few chipmunks play for a half-hour? I guarantee you’ll smile. And be glad to be alive.

I’ve noticed so many different species of birds I got a guidebook. The binoculars are on order. This may be a commentary on where I live in Bethlehem. It may be commonplace for many.

I watched a big grey hawk swoop into one of our arborvitae trees, plunge itself deep in the tree – while a gaggle of black birds swirled around squawking – and then emerge with a plump bird between its talons, and fly away.

The other night at dinner a fox appeared on the patio. As we all met its eyes through the glass door, it did a vertical leap straight up and over the patio railing. The move defied gravity and put Michael Jordan to shame.

Michael Jordan is foremost in my mind. We spent five evenings watching 10 episodes of sports documentary that recalls the Chicago Bulls 1998 championship season. Back when that season was unfolding in real time during my life, I didn’t watch five minutes of it.

I learned that Michael Jordan is meaner that I thought. I’ve also learned that Tony Soprano is nicer.

I didn’t have HBO back in the day. We’ve been living with Tony Soprano, his family and crew during the quarantine. I wasn’t aware of his softer side.

This is all happening because I have time. There are no speeches to give, events to attend or business dinners. When the workday ends, I walk out of my office and into my living room and life begins.

My youngest son and his girlfriend have been living with us since March 18 when they left Brooklyn. They live upstairs, working remotely.

We all gather in the evenings. The other night we played Parcheesi for three hours. I hadn’t played it since I was a kid. Back in the day I never read the rules. I was taught the game by my parents and grandparents. Apparently, they never read the rules either.

Unless Parcheesi has changed a lot since the 1970s, we were playing a very modified version of it back then. Who knew an extra 20 moves came with taking an opponent’s pawn?

This virus and the quarantine are a reminder that life doesn’t last forever. It’s been tragic for so many. For those fortunate enough to have not lost lives or loved ones, we should take something from this. Life is short. Watch the chipmunks and the squirrels. Identify the birds, marvel at the cruelty and swiftness of nature. Some of your best evenings will be unplanned. Your greatest joys will come from sharing time with others.

It’s amazing how the quarantine has become just another thing to divide Americans. I’m stunned by the anger it has caused. The search for blame. The discussion of death and suffering as if it were a scorecard at a sporting event.

I remember a day when we were all just Americans. I spent nearly the first three decades of my life not knowing if someone was a Republican or a Democrat. We were just neighbors or friends or relatives.

Frankly, I don’t even remember people caring that much about what the president was doing or what went on in Washington, D.C., or who the governor was. Our world began and ended in the neighborhood, the community, the Little League field or the school yard.

People got their news from The Bethlehem Globe-Times or the Allentown Call-Chronicle or the Easton Express. Not everyone had opinions on everything or instantly became experts on every topic from pandemics to foreign policy to constitutional law.

It’s much more complicated today. I don’t think it’s better. If we had enemies in the past, they were in other countries and came from wars or cold wars.

Americans now look at other Americans as their enemies.

Turn off Fox and CNN. Stop blaming each other for nature’s work. Be glad to be alive.

British journalist Max Hastings wrote: “We are pathetically eager to believe that, if human affairs are managed right, nothing unpleasant need befall anyone.”

This is a premise that guarantees disappointment.

Stop, take a breath and watch the chipmunks.

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