We are a year-plus into the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States, and — knock on wood — the worst seems to have finally passed us by. Yes, I know that we are not yet completely out of the woods, nor is the disease done adding to its grim toll. I also know that we should avoid declaring victory too soon. I get all of that. Still, it is fairly obvious to one and all that we are starting to emerge from the Year of COVID, even if only slowly and hesitantly in some parts of the country. Other parts of the country at times seemed like they were hardly willing to admit that they were ever affected by the disease (and to be fair, they were in some cases not hit quite as hard as other places were).
With all of that said, it seems like a good time to do some self-reflecting on all of the things that this author learned and/or observed during the Year of COVID. Call them reflections, meditations, or whatever you want to call them, but they emerged at the surface of my consciousness like dead fish floating up from the deep after a grenade was tossed into my mental lake. I am sure each of you also have your own list of realizations reached over the past year, percolating through your thoughts. These are simply mine.
Being the last man on earth
When the city streets are nearly deserted — reminiscent of a scene from “I am Legend” — because almost everyone is quarantined at home, the simple act of walking or riding a bike through a seemingly deserted city is pretty liberating and a pseudo-spiritual experience. Perhaps it was just the fact of being isolated in a space designed specifically for the presence of people, but it really felt like strolling through a landscape out-of-time, as if I was one of the few remaining humans on Earth. That kind of feeling cannot help but make one meditate on all kinds of topics throughout the course of a stroll or a ride.
Not everyone is on the same team all the time.
Wearing a mask for long stretches of time, whether at work or when out buying necessities, is not that fun (deliberately snarky understatement). Additionally, lots of Americans are prepared to push back — sometimes hard — against recommended public health measures such as mask-wearing, especially if they lack faith in the public health system, the scientists, the doctors, and the politicians. Sigh.
Working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
A lot of us do not really need to go to offices to do our jobs. At the same time, working exclusively from home while rarely ever leaving — for weeks at a time — sucks big time. I was lucky enough to work throughout the pandemic, at a fire station, so I avoided this problem. My wife, however, was close to tearing her hair out and losing her mind from a year of virtual, from-home work.
Going to school from home isn’t either.
Our kids do not get the same education at home, via the web, that they do from a real live teacher in a school building. I am not sure there is any way to convincingly refute this point, with the noted exception of those kids who are homeschooled. In those cases, the parents are the teachers, and have generally put effort into creating a suitable learning environment. For the rest of us, our kids definitely suffered education-wise over the past year if they were out of school for a significant amount of time. It is almost like teachers (and schools) are important. Go figure.
Even introverts have limits when it comes to quarantine.
Some people — introverts, I am talking to you — really enjoyed many aspects of the quarantine life. You know, like not being around people all of the time. Even they, though, are sick of being cooped up at home, I would venture to say.
Turns out, humans are pretty social animals.
The lack of concerts, festivals, crowded bars, packed public squares, teeming town centers, farmer’s markets, and all the rest of our mass social gatherings really blows. We need each other, to be around each other, to feed off of each other, and to thrive on each other (introverts notwithstanding). That really became obvious over the last year.
There’s lots of stuff you can do online. Church isn’t one of them.
Online Catholic mass is just not the same as in-person mass. No matter how hard the Church tried (and it really did!), the internet services were not quite as meaningful. I missed the communion, both in the sense of physically worshipping alongside my fellow believers, and in the sense of receiving it as a Holy Sacrament. I am not afraid to admit that I teared up attending mass again with some of my fellow humans.
We can be our own worst enemies.
When the real zombie apocalypse-outbreak-pandemic-end of times come, I am afraid we are going to go out as a species denying that it is a big deal, right up until the bitter and tragic end. The in-fighting, turning on each other, suspicion, tribalism, and dehumanization, I fear, is going to run rampant throughout most of the world, just like the movies and TV shows have depicted. I wish it were not true, but I think it might be so.
Don’t just “look for the helpers.” Be one.
Notwithstanding the last (super-positive) point, some among us are the best of us, and will step forward when times turn dark and do their damnedest to feed us, care for us, entertain us, console us, encourage us, and generally help us to get through the hardest times. Others, not so much. It is decidedly better to be one of the former than one of the latter. Be a good person.
Being grateful for the little (big) things in life.
Finally, as I suspected all along, once the superfluous BS of everyday life is stripped away, all I really need in my life to feel satisfied is my loved ones, music and books, outdoor physical activities, spirituality, and a purposeful/meaningful vocation. The rest is all fluff. At least the Year of COVID helped me realize that fact.
-Feature photo courtesy of Ft. Stewart Public Affairs
Meanwhile, Corporate America is in a big rush to divest themselves of properties, and offer Work From Home packages to save millions, upon millions in real estate leases, upkeep etc. However, as your article points out, WFH sucks, people are starting to see that, and feel it. I think the rush to divest is starting to temper a bit (hopefully.) New folks who are hired WFH will never experience training or onboarding one on one, or the camaraderie of those of us essential workers who have to go into a place of work. I hope some semblance of sanity in WFH asserts itself vs. dollar signs driving business decisions in the short term.
Great article, identified with all of it in one way or another.