Okay, I’ll admit it: I am one of those people who is wary, even anxious, about this rush to return to normal. Yes, I have been vaccinated, and yes, I am encouraged by the declining Covid numbers, and yes, I am hopeful that we will reach some sort of reliable “herd immunity”threshold. But you know, old habits die hard, especially those forged in an extended state of emergency. After some 15 months of seclusion and a successful adjustment to a more isolated way of living, my transition back to the “old normal” or into the “new normal” — whatever you want to call it — is bound to come with some hesitancy and trepidation.
And, frankly, with some resistance. I don’t necessarily want to return to my pre-pandemic self, nor do I necessarily want to engage in my pre-pandemic activities. I have, over these many months, thought otherwise about that life and that self. As so many others have discovered during this time, I too have found other ways of doing things (getting groceries, staying in touch, finding creative expression, etc.) and other priorities (how to spend my time and with whom to spend it). I am thinking that many of these discoveries will permanently alter my way going forward.
First off, the big basics: online shopping and grocery delivery/curbside pickup are here to stay for me and everybody else. I have it on inside information that major grocery retailers are expanding their online order and pick-up services by actually reducing their in-store sales space for the sake of bigger, more efficient, even robotic, fulfillment centers. This idea was percolating among some major chains even before the pandemic, but Covid provided the impetus to make it happen. Not only was online/store pick-up a successful pandemic health strategy, but it proved to be both convenient and sensible considering the ever-expanding size of most supermarkets and ever-aging consumers (like me) who find it increasingly difficult to navigate mega stores.
Likewise for take-out meals from restaurants. In an effort to survive, the full-service restaurant industry, major chains and even some high-end establishments devised online ordering platforms and menus that could accommodate being picked up and enjoyed at home. Some even delivered to that home. For people who aren’t accomplished home cooks, and even for those of us who are but missed some of our favorite restaurant meals, this has been a godsend — and it is not going away. Especially when it is also being accompanied by take-out alcoholic drinks. So whether it’s the joy of cooking or the ease of ordering in, the whole “hunting and gathering” chore has, I believe, been forever simplified.
As have the way people are sharing their meals and other occasions. For example, even with all the stresses and strains of kids out of school and adults working at home, families nevertheless enjoyed their reacquaintance with each other by sitting down to have dinner together instead of running hither and yon and leaving post-it notes on the fridge. Friends, especially far-away friends, have found ways to have lunch or meet for a drink on Zoom and many have even been able to enjoy really special occasions that they might not have otherwise been able to share. I personally have “attended” two bar mitzvahs, one graduation, and Mass every week through Zoom or live streaming, all of which I found to be more intimate, more personal, and more satisfying than if I had been physically present in a crowd of strangers.
Speaking of crowds, business professionals aren’t the only ones who have found relief from endless meetings and constant travel through remote connections. Those of us who are involved in various groups and organizations (professional associations, charities, churches, etc.) have also found it liberating to “meet” at home via Zoom without having to get dressed and drive somewhere (which can be quite far here in Texas). With a set date and time and a specific agenda geared to a limited Zoom session, meetings seem to be more productive and freed from endless delays and idle chit-chat. Plus, there are no pot-lucks or bag lunches to deal with!
Since I am already beginning to sound like a misanthrope, I may as well admit that I have also reevaluated the people in my life and those with whom I spend time. Now I realize that human beings are social animals and no one has ever accused me of being an introvert, but strangely enough, during the pandemic, I have also rediscovered the solitude of my childhood, the centeredness of my creative self, and the luxury of just being quiet. Of course I miss my closest friends (whom I haven’t seen in two years or more because they all live far away), but I do not miss at all the inane conversations so common in groups of casual acquaintances and sort-of friends. I don’t want to discuss the weather, and I really don’t want to hear about illnesses and ailments, children and grandchildren, and other people whom I don’t even know. What’s more, I have happily discovered that a big bonus of more limited social interaction is a noticeable reduction in encounters with the truly obnoxious!
Simplify and sustain— those seem to be the new attitudes of post-Covid life and, already, they are in evidence across society. Witness the recent boom in used-car sales, for example. I just read that the average age of a car on the road today is 12.1 years. (My own much loved vehicle is 10 years old and just shy of 100K miles; I have neither reason, nor desire, to replace it.) Witness all the purging of closets and de-cluttering of houses that took place while we were homebound and finally able to consider all “the stuff” that we didn’t want, didn’t need, or would never use again. The effects of this reevaluation are especially striking in the fashion industry, now that its biannual shows in Milan, Paris and New York have been relegated to pre-pandemic history. No longer the arbiters of tastes and trends, even major designers (those who are left) recognize that people’s social and professional lives have fundamentally changed, and that in this age of diversity and inclusion, we don’t have to all dress alike any more than we all have to look alike.
Obviously, there are many other more general changes in the ways people will live and work that are likely to become permanent, and some of those changes may not entirely be matters of personal choice. But for those who used the forced “time out” since March of last year to reflect and reassess the decisions we make and the choices we can control, individual attitudinal adjustments and a greater awareness of ourselves among others may hold the only collective promise of healing a fractured, divided society.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard wrote in The Writing Life (Harper Perennial, 1989). Those of us who have survived Covid now have 15 months fewer days left in our lives since the pandemic began. Let’s spend those days wisely.