March 12, 2020, I closed my laptop and walked across the Neuse River bridge to enjoy my evening walk on the greenway. Midway across the bridge the title for a story came to mind: The Day The World Sneezed. That Thursday, Raleigh and Wake County had begun to discuss imposing restrictions on business. There was talk schools might close the following week. When I got home from my walk I made a fake book cover with the words: “The Day The World Sneezed” at the top and posted it on Facebook. Done with that, I thought.
Friday during my evening walk Elmer showed up. Elmer introduced himself as the main character in “The Day The World Sneezed” and began to explain how the “crud” had disrupted his life. He talked as we walked. If you know a writer you may have witnessed them staring off into space in a daze. Odds are a character in their head is speaking and your writer friend does not want to miss a word. That night I celebrated my birthday with my wife, boys, and granddaughter. There I mentioned Elmer and how he had set out to help others but ended up making a mess of things – for a while, anyway.
Saturday morning, March 14, I began writing. Monday, March 16, our city and county began shutting down. As a writer who lives in a cave with characters no one can see, “shelter-in-place” was God’s gift to me. Finally I had an excuse to avoid all social contact: which meant I had more writing time. On April 5, Elmer finished telling me his story.
Several dear friends have mentioned that it is too soon to tell Elmer’s story: that people are dying (that’s true) and grieving (also true), but Elmer did not seem concerned about any of this when he told me his story.
“The Day The World Sneezed” is a story of hope, helping others, and finding the “light-hearted” moments in the midst of tragedy. If such a story is too soon, I’m sure Elmer will understand. He’s not the sort to force himself upon others. Maybe later, after all this “crud” business is over, you’ll consider listening to Elmer’s story. He really is, a colorful character.