I’m nothing, if not a team player. Running low on milk and cereal –– two important staples in my morning diet — I left the house for the grocery store, committed to observing social distancing. I was good at it. I ended up at the Kroger’s in Normal, Illinois, 164 miles from my home.
Oddly, I found it crowded there, also.
I’d say there is one trait of our personal nature that separates us from all of the other primates. It defines us even more than love, sex, ego, greed, or hunger.
Human beings crave certainty.
As much as we like to believe we are an independent, free-willed people, the truth is that we couldn’t function if we didn’t believe that most things will remain the same. It’s hardwired into our unconscious.
When we go to bed each night, very few of us are troubled by the fact that the sun may not be there in the morning. An asteroid could sneak out of the dark matter of space, and wipe us out in a blink. Yet, that very possible fact — based on historic evidence — hardly troubles any of us.
It happens in our waking life, too. Most of us travel down the highway completely at ease, comfortable believing the car coming from the other direction will not hit us. We know that it could happen, because it happens every day somewhere.
It’s not that we trust the other driver, really. I don’t trust any of them. No, we manage to drive from point A to point B without a care in the world, because — quite simply — no one has managed to hit us in the past. Or if so, it was long enough ago that we’ve become once again accustomed to the latent danger of cars whizzing past us.
Our brains are drawn to the familiar. When people say, “I’ll be glad when things get back to normal,” they really mean that they will be glad when certainty returns to their lives.
That’s why the spread of Human Coronavirus (COVID-19) is difficult to comprehend. Everything about it is “un-certain”. There is no vaccine, no known treatment, and no one knows who has it. The only thing that is certain is that it is spreading so fast, that if we don’t limit our contact with other people, there’s a great chance we’ll get it.
Our only defense is to distance ourselves.
Each day is another step into a suddenly uncertain future. Until we become familiar with that feeling, it will be difficult to find peace.
Today, I’m heading out of the store with a half gallon of soy milk and a crumpled box of Count Chocula. It’s not my usual breakfast, and I don’t even know if I’ll like soy milk.
But you know what? I’m starting my day tomorrow with a bowl of cereal –– just like I always do. And the thought of that certainty is giving me great comfort on my long drive back home.

John O. Marlowe is a reporter, sports writer and award-winning columnist for The Paper.