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Stefan Frei has some wonderful advice for these trying times

We may not all be neighbors, but we can help each other all the same.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

If you’re like me, your head is absolutely spinning. The last 48 hours or so have been an absolute whirlwind, both professionally and personally.

I came into this week knowing that a storm was probably about to hit. I don’t think I was remotely prepared for what that meant.

The storm front first made landfall on Wednesday afternoon, and it was mostly professional. The Sounders announced that they’d be postponing their next home game on March 21, shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee banned large gatherings in the area. That was not entirely surprising news and it sort of washed over me without too much impact.

Soon thereafter, it was announced that Seattle schools would be closing for at least a couple of weeks. With two relatively young children impacted, that was a bit more personal. I could feel the rain now, but it still felt manageable.

The heavy stuff started on Wednesday night. In what felt practically simultaneous, Donald Trump gave his Oval Office speech, Tom Hanks announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus and the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game was abruptly halted, and it was soon revealed that one of the players had tested positive for coronavirus. By the time the night was over, the NBA had postponed its season. Locally, the Tacoma Defiance played a match in front of an empty stadium, likely the last professional outdoor soccer match to be played in the United States for at least a few weeks. Now it felt a bit more like a downpour, and it was starting to be overwhelming.

Thursday’s news came in rapid succession. MLS postponed its season, the Sounders indefinitely cancelled training sessions, and so much news was coming out of Europe that it was frankly hard to keep track of it all. Leagues were postponing their seasons indefinitely, the Euros were delayed and might be pushed back a whole summer, players and coaches were testing positive for coronavirus. For all intents and purposes, the sports world — possibly humanity’s greatest distraction — was being ripped away when we most wanted to think about anything but reality.

What’s scary is that as bad as this all feels now, I think we also know the heavy stuff is yet to come.

I’ve been doing my best to not get lost in this kind of thinking. I took my kids to the park on Thursday. A lot of their classmates were there, too. The sun was out. I was surrounded by children’s laughter. There was lots of smiling.

Most parents, though, were stuck to their phones, talking in hushed tones with one another. They all figured out how to spend some time with their kids this day, making it feel like an unexpected day off from school. But they also knew they were going to have to figure out some combination of at-home schooling, ad-hoc daycare and giving in to parenting-by-Netflix. Deep down, they also knew that there’s no guarantee school will even restart on April 27.

I only have to think back to last year when snow cancelled about a week of school to imagine how bad it might be. The first day was borderline glorious, as we headed to the local park and went sledding. Each successive day was tougher, and a week in, we were willing to do just about anything to get schools reopened. In the best case, we’re six weeks away from school restarting this time around.

Really, though, those concerns are mild. If it was just being at home with my kids for six weeks, I’d manage. It’s not ideal, but we’d get through it. The reality is we don’t know what Seattle will even look like whenever we come out the other end of this storm. Restaurants all over town are already closing at an alarming rate, as the normal lunch crowds have virtually disappeared and dinner reservations have dried up. I’m well aware that the economy wasn’t working for everyone and was disproportionately benefitting the most wealthy, but most would agree it was doing pretty well as recently as a few weeks ago. It will surely be something substantially worse at the other end of this. The most vulnerable will surely suffer the most. The restaurants are the canary in the coal mine. I’m sure other sectors of the economy will be hit just as hard as we’re all basically banned from going out.

It’s easy to get lost in the negativity and pessimism. I’ve spent a lot of time there recently.

At a time like this, sports feels awfully trivial and worrying about the Sounders can seem a little pointless. But this community and that team are two things that give some degree of optimism. One ray of sunshine came from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who managed to come up with this line on the spot following Wednesday’s training session:

“You’re always in a bit of a team environment where someone has something going on and you try to pick them up and try to take care of them a little bit more,” he said. “Maybe we should all act like a big team at this point and and make sure that if your neighbor’s elderly and needs some groceries and you make a grocery run, shoot them a quick text. Maybe you can help them out and pick up some groceries or something like that. Let’s be more neighborly and help each other out and I think we’ll be OK.”

My intention is to take some of Frei’s advice and use this community as a force for good, to create a neighborhood of people who aren’t necessarily neighbors. We can help lift each other up, if not with physical acts then with words of encouragement, funny stories or pointless distractions.

In 10 years covering this team, I’ve never in my life felt a greater sense of community than I have here. It was only a couple weeks ago that we bonded together and raised more than $10,000 for the Seattle Children’s Autism Center. The wins we’ll find in the coming weeks might not feel as big, but in they can be more personal. Last night, I celebrated getting my kids to bed without tears despite mom being away. We should share those little victories as much as possible. Don’t be shy.

I don’t know what any of this will look like when the sun finally comes out and the Sounders are playing again. I do know this community will be here. Coronavirus can’t take that away.

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