Updated: Jul 31, 2020
On the East Coast, where I grew up, we’d wait for the Good Humor man to come ding-a-linging by in his ice cream truck. Those chocolate-coated ice cream bars were the taste of summer in New Jersey. In the Midwest, families line up at the Dairy Queen or the local small-town ice cream shoppe for double and triple dippers. I’ll take chocolate chip, thank you.
We gathered for the ice cream, of course, on those sweltering summer nights. But we were also there for the sense of community and a refreshing respite during the days without air conditioning—saying hello to friends, asking about summer activities. Who was going to camp? How was Little League? What are your vacation plans? And we’d gather around picnic tables or on street corners, as we tried to keep up while those cones, Popsicles, or ice cream bars melted and dripped down our hands and arms.
Those were glorious days.
In keeping with summer traditions, my wife, Peggy, and I drove into town the other night to get ice cream. We realized, after parking several blocks away from the bustling ice cream venue, there was no indoor service, but we could get ice cream at the drive-up window. Since we had already parked, we simply walked up to the window between cars.
We were in a parade of automobiles walking behind a massive SUV about the size of Argentina. And behind us was a battered Ford pickup with a bunch of high-spirited kids inside.
This summer ritual is our new normal in so many ways. Trying to find sanity during insane times.
A very pleasant high school attendant at the window greeted us with a masked smile and shared with us that the driver of the car in front of us had paid for our ice cream with a gift card. What a pleasant surprise.
We felt an overwhelming sense of joy, gratitude, and peace from this gracious driver. He had already driven off with his family (like the Lone Ranger, “Who was that masked man?”), and we had no idea who he was.
But now for the rest of the story—because there always is.
The next day I received a direct message on Twitter (@EdwardCreagan) from our ice cream benefactor wondering if I was the recipient (as he thought), and I confirmed back that I was indeed. He was not certain because I was wearing a mask, baseball hat, and sunglasses—more of a typical bank robber disguise. And his automobile had deeply tinted windows.
To my astonishment, he was a medical colleague I have worked with on patient issues over the years. An international rock star in a complex area of surgery where every case was a life-and-death situation, where there were no second chances or do-overs. His technical skills were legendary, combined with a palpable passion and concern for the patient and the family and the entire medical team.
If it were not for the pandemic, and our families’ desire to celebrate this strange, isolated summer with ice cream, I doubt that we would have connected. This was a powerful experience to pause and reflect that it really does not take very much to reach out and connect with someone. It really doesn’t take much effort to make someone's world a little kinder and a little softer. And I got a free ice cream cone—and will be paying this kindness forward.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ensnares and unravels almost every aspect of our life, find some way to be kind to someone else. Recognize that this is the new normal, and things will never quite be the same, as we anxiously await a vaccine that seems like an elusive dream. So we push on and show up without a clear light at the end of the tunnel.
In this new normal, we can’t hug each other. We can’t even get close or shake hands, but we can hold doors, wave hello, smile under the mask and let our eyes signal that we’re smiling, say thank you, send a card or email to check in with a friend, or buy someone an ice cream cone on a summer Saturday evening. What could be more American than that?