The coronavirus pandemic has brought on many challenges since it began disrupting our lives in March. As we move through the fall and into winter with the virus raging, the prospect of new vaccines finally offer some light at the end of the tunnel.
The pandemic has been nothing if not a learning experience, testing our endurance while giving us new insight into how we conduct our lives and socialize with each other. Recently, I have been taking stock of opportunities lost and wisdom gained.
First, I will never again take for granted the small pleasures in swapping air with my fellow human beings. I miss the face-to-face contact, the touching of an arm and hugging of a friend. I miss the satisfaction of being able to incorporate all my senses into understanding how the emotions and body language of another person make them who they are. Zoom is far from an adequate replacement. Emails are too brief, and phone calls lack the joy of in-person communication.
I miss the spray of spit from the actors at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, the crowds at the Washington and Pittsburgh symphonies and the warm faces of my colleagues at meetings and at the gym. I miss the bustling sounds of crowded restaurants. I miss the summer and holiday blockbuster movies at the cinema. I miss not being able to converse in public because my face is covered.
This year we have learned a great deal about how we warehouse the elderly in their golden years. Nursing homes became the first death traps when COVID-19 made its spring appearance. These facilities were locked down like prisons, and residents were confined to their rooms with little interaction with family or other residents.
We watched as a close friend in her 90s was able to remain in a small, first-floor condominium. She communed with nature, tended to her plants, visited with masked friends and traveled around the community in her caregiver’s car. Her quality of life was over the moon compared to family members locked down in care facilities over many months. Clearly, our infrastructure for elder care is inadequate, and home health-care options need to become less expensive and more accessible.
The pandemic gave new meaning to the home being one’s castle. Some would say a fortress. My wife and I are both retired, and spent much of the day at home before the pandemic. Nonetheless, the inability to travel abroad or to plan activities away from home forced us to gain new perspectives on our living environment.
Furniture was added and subtracted. The basement and closets were finally cleaned. Rooms were organized into new configurations. An old stereo system was updated via online shopping so that dusty vinyl records and old cassette tapes could be heard. Bird watching and gardening took on new (even spiritual) importance. Our respective hobbies of reading and quilting achieved levels of importance never before imagined – 27 books and three quilts at last count.
Not long before the pandemic struck, we snickered at Asians, encountered while traveling, all wearing masks as part of their everyday hygiene and personal protection. Now, we purchase masks to match our outfits or to make a political statement. Masks pile up in the car, in our pockets and in the foyer. On Amazon, there are thousands of sites selling masks of every conceivable size, design and material. A product unknown to us in the spring has become the go-to Christmas stocking stuffer.
Back in March, no one could have predicted that the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays would be downgraded to simple stay-at-home affairs with little interaction among extended family or friends. While the boisterous celebration is gone, there is now time to contemplate the meaning of each occasion. More diets will be maintained, and fewer instances of drunken driving will reduce carnage on the roads.
Conversely, loneliness and isolation will foster more depression and, sadly, more suicide and domestic violence.
Globally, the pandemic has given us a warning, and it has informed leaders around the world of proactive actions that must be taken to avoid the next disruptive event. More deadly viruses, global warming and the migration of large populations across borders are real and present dangers. The virus has made it abundantly clear that these multinational problems require multinational cooperation, planning and solutions.
From all indications, the pandemic will be darkest in the coming months before it subsides. The small inconveniences most of us face are far less significant than the death and consequences it has caused to society as a whole. During this holiday season, our thoughts should be with those less fortunate who must endure the virus under already pitiful circumstances. Every act of kindness and gesture of charitable contribution will be the best gift to give and receive.
We should also be grateful and willing to reach deep to show how thankful we are for the millions of individuals who have made it possible to get us through these trying times. Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, in her weekly Wall Street Journal column had an excellent idea. Noonan proposed that all undocumented workers who risked their health and their family’s safety to keep the country above water during the pandemic should be granted citizenship, along with their immediate families.
Such an act of appreciation and compassion would make us all proud.
Gary Stout is a Washington attorney.