As a child, I often heard my parents preach the virtue of visiting shut-ins, a curious, cloistered tribe I couldn’t quite understand. Who were these sad souls sequestered in their living rooms — prevented, perhaps by some fairy tale curse, from crossing their own thresholds to venture into the neighborhood?
I remained puzzled, even when my mother or father brought me along on missions of mercy, cheering a shut-in with a jar of soup, a bowl of fruit, a few kind words. Only later did I grasp the physical limits, usually from illness or age, that could keep a person confined.
But I learned a little more about what it’s like to be homebound when, for nearly two days this month, I became something of a solitary shut-in myself. It happened when the Great Freeze settled on this part of the world, bringing snow in the yard and ice in the streets. My wife had driven out of town on business before the weather hit, and our daughter was visiting a friend somewhere else. Our son was snowbound in his dormitory, so I was home alone as the mercury plunged.
Then my car failed, meaning I couldn’t brave the streets even if I dared. Puttering around the yard also seemed like a bad idea.
I’m a middle-aged guy in decent health, though a clumsy one, as I was reminded during an earlier freeze when I slipped on my slick driveway and broke my arm. With the household now empty, I’d be on my own if I fell again and cracked something else. I pictured myself prone on the patio, fractured and freezing like some character in a Jack London story, while our terrier snoozed in the warm dining room. It was best to stay inside.
So I kept indoors, feeling vaguely as if I’d been sentenced to house arrest. In my bachelor years, I learned to endure — and even enjoy— being alone, a form of occasional respite I still like. But it’s one thing to seek solitude and another thing to have it imposed on you. This sudden quiet seemed odd.
The snow made things even quieter. I opened the porch door and listened a bit as the flakes hit the walk, lightly clinking like crystal when they landed. It was the only sound on the block. The streets were deserted, the yards along the street a magical desolation of white. My lawn was pure and powdered all around, except in that dark place where the terrier had raised his leg and left his evil little signature.
I worked remotely on my laptop, which helped the hours pass. But when the streets thawed and a friend arrived to ferry me to the office, I greeted him like a remote villager welcoming the mail plane.
So ended my two days as a shut-in. Let’s help the folks for whom this is a daily reality.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.