Pulling Through the Pandemic

Wait. You say there’s been a global pandemic, and we’re all affected? I didn’t know!

Kidding. My life, like everybody else’s, has been tangibly altered in many ways. However, having retired nearly five years before the COVID pandemic shut us all down in March 2020, my own life adjustments seem minor compared to many.

I was already acclimated to daily neighborhood walks of 2 ½ to 3 miles when the pandemic hit. Since then, I’ve also been accompanied by my wife, now working remotely. Not much for travel, I hadn’t been on a plane since shortly after my 2015 retirement from the Library of Congress. However, the entire Washington metro area and medium-length road trips to Baltimore or Pittsburgh used to be indulged on a whim – in the “Before Times” – but no longer. My daily commute from my Arlington home to Capitol Hill were but a distant memory when the pandemic hit in 2020. I went where I wanted, when I wanted, without much hesitation. Errands were run by preference, rather than necessity, including grocery shopping.

Things did begin to change in March 2020. I could no longer take Arlington Community Learning writing classes face-to-face in a classroom, with their precious nonverbal feedback from the group. I’m not a physically demonstrative person by nature, not a hugger, not a casual back slapper. That deficit didn’t faze me. But, the grandkids (ages 5 and 2); they want to hug and hold hands. Sorry, kids, not yet!

Over the last year, I‘ve been getting smaller in some ways – my world no longer includes working out at my gym, grocery delivery services have replaced going to supermarkets, and my wife and I no longer invite our single son for Sunday dinners. (He’s been more adamant about that than we are.) Daily household routines have become religious in nature – the morning coffee, always 9 or 10 cups, never the 4 or 5 I would make for myself, our nightly TV “date nights” always on our favorite furniture (me, the sofa, she, the easy chair with ottoman). Yet, oddly, these routines have spawned a curious sense of contentment in my advancing years. I have much more control over my life now, fewer unanticipated events forcing quick reaction. And, above all, I can tell myself – “this is only temporary!”

In other ways, I have been getting bigger. Most important, I know that the whole world is experiencing the same pandemic! Of course, they aren’t all experiencing it in the same way – the poor always do worse. But, when I think of the commonality of everybody’s experiences, my ego tends to dissolve. That makes me bigger – as different as other people’s experiences may be, my own are significantly less unique than I used to think. And, mostly, I am now acutely aware that other people have way more to worry about than what I think! All this leads me to wonder if too much easing of restrictions, now that vaccines are more widely available, might be a bad thing. I believe others feel this way, too. You can see it, over their masks, when you make eye contact with strangers on those neighborhood walks. We are sharing something.

We seem to have learned, collectively, that the masks and social distancing are for protecting others. The moral lesson here may grow in the future. When we finally go out again, in the next few months, will we appreciate the increased opportunity for travel? Shopping in brick-and-mortar stores? Indoor events in concert halls and theaters? Sit-down restaurants with servers? Or, will we decide we didn’t need them anyway?

What about those tribal boundaries between “my people” and the “others”? We’ve seen how they are permeable – maybe they can disappear altogether post-pandemic? That would be a good thing, indeed.

— William Sundwick

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