Earlier this year, as the pandemic was starting, I read a wonderful memoir by Cathal Kelly: Boy Wonders. Cathal is a sportswriter for the Globe and Mail here in Canada. I am in general not a big follower of sports writers since I tend not to follow sports too closely. However, the first time I read one of Mr. Kelly’s articles I was laughing to the point of tears. He has that way of observing the absurd within great moments, and seeing the comical in the every day.
Since then I have tried to read his articles whenever I can. I would read one of his articles even if he wrote about the nuances of drying paint.
Therefore I was very happy when he published his memoir. Considering his age, I imagine this is only volume one of several. The whole book is worth the read, but in particular the last chapter “The Umbrella”, is noteworthy. Not only is it amusing, but it’s insightful in a way that leaves you with a changed perspective on life.
The main point, without giving too much away, is that something that can be annoying and irritating, something that can only be perceived as negative, is something you end up missing once it’s gone. That is part of the human spirit of endurance: we complain much, but are actually able to tolerate and accept quite a lot.
It’s like that exchange in Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot:
ESTRAGON: I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR: That’s what you think.
The good in the bad
Eventually we adapt to the most trying of situations, and then actually miss them once they pass.
Just the other day I was waiting to go into a supermarket. Again, there was a line outside. Before March, had I had to stand in line for anything, I would have been very irritated. I don’t have a lot of patience at the best of times.
But this time, and once again, I caught myself not minding the wait at all. In some ways, it felt therapeutic, Zen-ish. I was there with other fellow human beings. They were all calm, relaxed. The line moved – slowly, but it moved. The world just felt all right. And that’s when I realized, there were some things about this pandemic time I am definitely going to miss.
Now, I don’t want to downplay the suffering that Covid-19 has played and continues to play. I think all of us should keep in mind all of those who lost loved ones, those who got sick, and those people continuing to suffer from “long Covid”. There are fellow citizens who lost jobs and businesses as a result of the pandemic. And our food banks need our support.
All of these are serious, and in many cases heartbreaking situations. And it isn’t any fun, truly, trying to navigate our current environment and trying to avoid letting our guard down and catching the virus, or catching it again.
The Benefits of Change
However, as with all change that impacts us negatively, something positive can come out of it.
People lose jobs, and then find much better ones.
We’re hurt when friends turn out not to be who we thought they were, but that creates space for other friendships, better ones, deeper ones.
That girlfriend drops you, but then you rediscover something you wanted to do but were too absorbed to enjoy. And afterwards you meet someone who is a much better fit, true love. Yeah, Jeanette, take that. I found someone better. So there. OK, alright, maybe I should let go of that finally. It was over 30 years ago. I need to move on.
Anyway, I started compiling this list of things that I will long for, once this is over.
- Time with family. My boys are between 17 and 20, and before the pandemic I think I ran a pretty good Bed and Breakfast…and Lunch…and Dinner (if they happened to breeze through). Now we actually see each other, spend time together and talk with each other! And my wife and I have more than just frequent operational transactions and status updates between rushing in and rushing out of some door. We, too, now talk. According to her, I have changed quite a bit. I thought it was the other way around, but never mind. I am not about to argue who is right and wrong. Those arguments never ended well – for me.
- People being eager to just get together. The other week I went for a mid-day walk with a good friend of mine. It was pouring. Prior to the pandemic, we would have called each other up and we would have postponed, would have gone inside somewhere, or would have turned it into a phone meeting. Not now. I don’t think a lightning storm blizzard in a howling gale would have deterred us.
- And when we do get together as friends, outside, responsibly distanced, people are much happier. None, so far, have been miserable or steadily complaining. There is a lot more laughter, and appreciation that we can just get to see each other’s faces, and in person!
- The calmness of people in general. People wait in lines calmly. People are asked to wait outside, and they reply, “okay”, and just do it. Yes, there is the odd wound up wingnut, but in general they are far, far fewer, and further between.
- The lack of suffocating crowds. Isn’t it great that wherever you go people give each other lots of room? And they wait for you to pass, or you wait for them? And everyone is just kosher with that. Admittedly, for a brief period in my life, my highlight of the week was the local mosh pit. But that time was brief, and passed. I grew up. I am going to miss this more civilized space and pace. And for those who are at that stage of their lives, where the thought of crowded dance floors gets the adrenaline flowing, “this, too, shall pass”. Before you know it, you will again be crowd surfing off of some stage. This may be a good opportunity to practice the virtue of patience.
- Lack of traffic. Seriously, that’s the one thing I really, really do not miss about the “good old days”. Now, that’s not as big a deal with my colleagues in Ottawa, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan and Hackettstown New Jersey. But here, and I am sure for those of you living in any high density part of the world, you noticed fewer cars and trucks on the road. And isn’t that just the best?
- Few-to-none crazy, rushed drivers. That is tied to the calmer traffic situation. I don’t miss those irresponsible drivers who seem to be in such a rush, weaving in and out of traffic, putting everyone at risk and on edge. Overall, less stress for all of us when driving on the roads now.
- Not having to meet in person. Before the pandemic, if you wanted to see someone the only acceptable way was to do so in person. So you decided on a coffee or lunch meeting. Then the dance would begin – “Where are you coming from? Could we meet somewhere in the middle?” Then leaving an hour ahead of time to avoid traffic (traffic again), an hour lunch, and an hour to get back home. Now a Zoom meeting and the only lead time is five minutes to brew the coffee or tea.
- Cleaner air. I remember noticing this in the beginning of the pandemic, and now I think I am used to it. But I do remember noticing and other people commenting on this as well. So it’s not just my imagination. With less traffic pollution the air is cleaner.
You Made It!
So at this time of year end celebrations, maybe you too may want to reflect on what you’ve gained, in your loss. And what have you learned about yourself and others as a result of this situation. My mentor, when I was a young man, once told me after something that went badly for me: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” That quote has kept my spirits up in the direst of circumstances.
I hope the New Year brings you much peace, and to all of us a better situation than we had in 2020. In addition I also wish that those gains you have made this year, you get to keep.
All the Best for 2021!
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Cover Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Photo by Juan Cruz Mountford on Unsplash
Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash