You can’t make this stuff up.

I was going through some photos (I finally downloaded them from my camera—my actual, real-life camera) and found one that caught my eye, dated Feb. 16. It was taken in New York City while I was on my way to cover the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women’s Emissaries conference that night in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Fears of the coronavirus were still relegated mostly to countries overseas.

Coincidentally, the guest speaker just happened to be an emissary in Beijing, China (can’t make this up), and while interviewing her before the evening event, she spoke of what was happening there. She even self-quarantined when she first arrived in the United States, two weeks ahead of time to make sure that she was OK.

On the way to report the proceedings and hear her address, I passed a sign at 50th and Broadway that said: “Embrace the Absurd.” I found it cool and New Yorky, so I snapped a shot to show my kids. Just this morning, I saw it again (can’t make this up) after organizing photos off my very old, but very good digital camera.

What an understatement.

And it isn’t the only unusual thing in 2020.

If you live on the U.S. East Coast, winter basically passed you by. There was no snow—nary a flake—not even a little frost. The oblong sleds in the garage glared at me, the plastic snow-brick builders sulked in their corner. Every day, my 8-year-old tentatively peeked out the window, only to see green, and on most days, a winter sun.

One day, it hit 69 degrees. Still, everyone said just wait. There’s always a storm at the end of the season. (Anyone remember the “storm of the century” on March 13, 1993?) We’ll get a whopper of a time in March.

What an understatement.

Sign at 50th Street and Broadway, New York City, Feb. 16, 2020. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

At least, I’ve had some time to stop and smell the flowers. They started budding the last week of February, and I rued the day when that impending blizzard would fall and cover them up like a white blanket.

But no, they kept on sprouting. Flowers by March 1. Of course, I didn’t see them until 12 days later. It was the day schools closed, and I realized that the virus had hit home.

That’s when I noticed the flowers in front of the house as I walked my boys back from their bus stop. I had time. Suddenly, I had time to stop and smell the flowers.

Since then, full blooms have arrived in the colors of spring: red, yellow, a bit of pink. The leaves on my rose bush have burst in full force. It’s really beautiful out there. There’s still sunshine, right, Bill Withers?

And that’s what we have to remember. That the world is still very beautiful. The actions of people can be beautiful. We are all kind of united right now (sadly, that won’t stay the same for long), looking to another day.

I look forward to the daily email of all the do-gooders: linen companies sending materials for use in making personal protective equipment, tattoo parlors sending face masks to health providers, pizza places sending pies to hospital staff working round the clock.

In fact, it brings to mind some Jewish sayings I repeat in times of stress. “This too shall pass.” “But for the grace of God go I.” “Think good, and it will be good.”

That’s not so absurd.

Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.

This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).

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