I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, but didn’t get around to publishing it right away. Then I started slowly venturing out of the house more — seeing a friend at his place from a distance, for example, and getting a beauty service (with both of us wearing masks and her sanitizing thoroughly between clients — and it seemed less pertinent. With case numbers steadily climbing, it looks like we may all going to have to go back into hiding soon. So… yeah.
A friend recently commented that the pandemic is essentially stealing one to two years of our lives. I can’t stop thinking about that.
It’s arguable (I guess)
Some people on Twitter protested this attitude when I tweeted about it. One pointed out that we’ll still be alive, so it’s not completely stolen.
But I would hope it’s obvious that my friend didn’t mean it was taken from us completely. What he meant was that the new norm will look very pale indeed in comparison to the old one.
He, for example, has older parents, so he’s currently their only contact. Which means they’re his only contact. He sits in his apartment working and he visits them. He’s barely even going to the store so as to avoid any contamination.
Before this, he was, like me very social. He played Ultimate Frisbee once a week and went out at least one to two more times a week with friends. So this new life is pretty tough for him.
In fact, the isolation is already taking a notable toll on his psyche. He said that he thought he was going to start going crazy if he didn’t interact with people in person soon. Other than his parents, of course. (To be clear “interact” for him means at a six-foot distance outdoors. He wants to see us, but very carefully and responsibly. He just needs something approaching human interaction offline.)
As for the rest of us…
Dating is either virtual or (for those of us who don’t want a serious relationship) non-existent. Contact sports are out (except, apparently, if you’re the NFL). Socializing will be mainly virtual. And if we do see one another in person, it needs to be from six feet away, preferably outdoors and perhaps still with masks on.
This means that if we follow proper social distancing guidelines, those of us without existing partners will not be touching anyone for one to two years.
If you have a partner and are poo-pooing those of us mourning our immediate future, please just stop and consider that for a moment: one to two years without physical touch.
Well, I suppose that’s not entirely the case for me. After all, my doctor takes my pulse at my monthly appointments.
But that would be as close as I get to physical human contact until a vaccine is created or herd immunity occurs. Or until I break and try to just find on guy who I can trust isn’t seeing anyone else, and who is isolating and being generally very careful. And if he were staying home that much, how would we ever meet each other in the first place?
So yes, I’d say that this next year or so has been stolen from us. At least in some form — a very, very real one for us social butterflies.
Some people don’t get it
One Twitter user said that my friend’s sentiment makes no sense to her. She’s loving this time and says we need to enjoy it while it lasts.
The day she said this, American deaths topped 80,000. So sorry if — even putting severe loneliness aside — I can’t enjoy any time associated with so much death.
Maybe her cavalier attitude is because she’s Australian, so that same day her country had only lost 97 people. Perhaps the disparity in death rates means that the pandemic is just not as real to her as to my friend and me.
It’s also worth noting that she has, I’m about 99% sure, at least one grown child living with her. So she has the benefit of company of family, without the sudden onus of constant childcare.
Or maybe she just honestly is that chipper and determined to find the good in the bad. We all know I’m not an optimist, so I wouldn’t understand that approach.
But some of us are in mourning
A different person gave a quote about nothing being promised to us and went on a bit religiously about what trials God gives us. As I’m an agnostic on my best days, this didn’t really provide any comfort.
No, nothing is guaranteed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t mourn the loss of our normal lives.
I had to mourn what I lost when I got Guillain-Barre Syndrome: my energy, my sanity (such as it was, pre-PTSD), and a form of my innocence/belief in the safety being healthy allegedly provides. When you lose a chunk of your life or innocence of the dangers of the world, I think it’s pretty understandable to be upset. To formally acknowledge the loss.
Another person said he felt like this downtime was freeing; he felt his time was finally not being stolen — by unnecessary meetings and other work stuff. Now, he said, he finally has time to write and develop other projects.
I replied to him as equinamously as possible and asked one very important question: Was he single? Sure enough, he quickly confirmed he has a family.
Obviously, I wasn’t surprised. Non-singletons seem far more prone to dismissing concerns other than the death toll. I think they don’t stop to consider the isolation we single folks are facing long-term.
As an aside, I also find it telling that “spend time with family” wasn’t on his list of things he finally gets to do, nor did he mention the stress of taking care of kids all day. Most parents I’ve heard from are frazzled and very much ready for this to be over. So it makes me wonder, given how blithe he is, just how much of the heavy lifting he’s doing in the parenting department. If the majority of responsibility is falling on his partner, it’s yet another way the pandemic isn’t affecting him as much as it is a lot of the population.
Many people understand
Based on the likes the tweet got, a fair number of people agree with my friend’s sentiment. Four people even retweeted it. So clearly my friend and I aren’t the only ones feeling robbed.
And it’s not just adults being (arguably) cosmically cheated.
As one Facebook friend would not stop complaining about, high school seniors lost out on important memories like prom and graduation. Yes, those are small things in the grand scheme of things, but they feel like a lot in the moment.
More importantly, kids are losing out on a real education by trained professionals.
More problematically, someone pointed out that some teens may have been robbed of at least part of their sports season, which means it’ll be even harder than usual to get a scholarship. And/or those who did get scholarships have an uncertain future since college sports are probably cancelled for the foreseeable future. Will they still be given the assistance?
And of course, would-be college freshmen will lose out on the independence and fresh start they were expecting this fall if classes stay virtual.
Back to the adults
And let’s not forget, many parents are being robbed of their sanity as they have to become teachers — or deal with younger children full-time — while juggling working from home.
Or they’re unemployed and seriously worried about money, while trying to keep the kids busy and entertained. Seriously, imagine losing the ability to earn a living — or at least to earn one without fearing for your (and, given transmission rates, your kids’) safety.
Any of those situations would be a pretty big loss too.
Some good (but mostly bad)
This isn’t to say that all is lost or, yes, to compare this pandemic to winking out of existence entirely.
I know to be grateful that at least Mom, my friends and I are still alive and presumably free of COVID-19. I know that there are even bright spots at times, as some people get more time with their kids (though that’s for better and worse), and perhaps they even finally appreciate their luck in having good health.
But occasional bright spots don’t necessarily preclude being bereft at the life we have to look forward to until a vaccine is created. Or at least until a) accurate antibody tests can be widely administered and b) we know how long the antibodies will provide immunity. And I don’t foresee that combination coming much sooner than a vaccine.
And yes, a vaccine may be available as soon as the end of the year. But as my mom pointed out, the last time they rushed a vaccine to market (swine flu), it didn’t go so well.
So we have no idea when this will be over, meaning that our lives as we know them are gone for now — and for the foreseeable future.
Obviously, it’s not that there’s no hope. We’re not looking at a Mad Max wasteland. We can and will cobble together some sort of life to stay sane within this new reality. (Though I wonder about immunocompromised people who are essentially trapped in their houses.)
So yes, we can survive this. But surviving isn’t the same thing as living. And I wish more people understood that.
Do you feel robbed of the foreseeable future, or are you finding bright spots in all this? Or both?