One of the hardest things about living through a pandemic is the uncertainty. When will the quarantines end? What will happen when they end? Will there be a second (third, fourth) wave of infections? Will my mom be okay? Or my friend in chemo, or my other friend with diabetes? What about my friends who are struggling financially, the ones who can't work from home, and can't afford their rent?
Under normal circumstances, I have a pretty high tolerance for uncertainty. But circumstances are anything but normal, and I feel a little overwhelmed by the kinds of questions I find myself asking now. They're considerably more existential than my usual musings about dogs, and politics, and dogs, and art, and fitness, and dogs, and easy vegetarian recipes.
And did I mention dogs?
One of the the things that preoccupies me is imagining what "normal" will look like post-pandemic. I keep two running lists in my head. The first is made up of things that have become normal during quarantine, but they're things I hate, and I'll be happy to see them go. It's a list of frustrations, really - little things like masks, endless handwashing, and not being able to wander freely; and big things too, like the staggering human toll of covid-19 and the grinding halt that has been brought to our global economy.
I can't change any of that, so I try to focus on the second list instead. It's a list of wonderful things that have become normal during quarantine. I didn't expect to like any of this, but I hope the things on this list never go away. Here's what I have so far:
Being friendly to each other
Here's what happens now when I'm out walking and someone is coming toward me. We both swing wide, maintaining social distance, and it feels awkward, a little embarrassing, so I smile. If I'm wearing a mask, I wave, or say hello, or compliment their cute dog, or wish them a good day. Only sometimes do I manage to do that before they've already greeted me.
It's just friendliness, but it's different now. Everyone does it. No one stares at the ground, or avoids eye contact, or forgets to smile. The need to social distance has made us all keenly aware of each other, attuned to our relative physical positions. As long as we're all paying such close attention to each other, we might as well say hi, right? We might as well be friendly.
I hope we keep seeing each other, even when our health no longer depends on it.
I send random texts. I get random texts. I spend more time on the phone talking than I did before. I love that everyone is checking in with each other. "How are you doing?" people keep asking me, and I know what the question really means. "I care about you. You're not alone. I'm here for you even when the world is upside down."
I hope we remember to check in on each other, even after the world rights itself again.
Zoom game nights
From the time my boys were little, we've always had regular game nights, but when my eldest, Dillon, moved to Virginia last year, we stopped. Dillon and his brother (who lives here) still have game nights over the internet, but my husband and I aren't included (for everyone's sake).
Enter Zoom. Now, all it takes is four cameras, four computers, about thirteen hours of setup (just kidding, but it's definitely not simple), and we have game night every Sunday, across an entire nation and three time zones.
Best use of technology ever.
Feeling deeply our human connection
I've known ever since my year of fearless love that we are all connected, that (cliche or not) the things that unite us are far more important than the things that divide us. Underneath the trappings of our individual lives, there is the same capacity for joy, the same sorrows, grief, fears, longing. Mostly, we don't look there, beneath the surface of things. We're too busy, too distracted. We lean into our differences. But it seems like now, in this time of great uncertainty, we have an opportunity to stop, to listen to each other with renewed interest and caring, to recognize in each other our shared humanity, our intertwined destinies, our wounded, hopeful hearts.
Of all the things on my list, this one feels the biggest, the most promising. If we were, as a species, able to truly understand the depth and truth of our connection - to each other, and to the planet we live on - empathy would be the predominant emotion, love and acceptance would fuel our interactions.
Just imagine if THAT were our new normal.