What I Hope We Remember from Social Distancing and the Coronavirus Shutdown
The coronavirus has, temporarily at least, changed life as we know it.
We’re grappling with the loss of simplicities we’ve come to depend on, such as being able to order and pick up exactly what we need when we need it. Our sources of entertainment, along with our social lives, have come to a halt, and we’ve suddenly been forced to reprioritize. No longer are we focused on insignificant things like posting our best selfie on Instagram or someone cutting us off in traffic.
A lot of scary, horrible stuff is happening. People are getting sick, some critically. Several are worrying about how much food they have or when they’ll run out of basic necessities like toilet paper. Many are facing sudden unexpected financial loss or instability. We’re called on to socially distance ourselves from others, and we’re struggling because human beings aren’t built for extended periods of isolation. We have no idea how long this will go on, and the questions are endless. How many cases are there today? Why can’t we control the spread? When will school resume? How long will the world exist in limbo? There are countless reasons to be anxious and afraid.
There are a lot of reasons to feel hopeful as well.
Look on social media.
Moms are offering up spare diapers and wipes to other moms in need. Teachers are volunteering to help parents who need assistance homeschooling. Celebrities are utilizing YouTube to read to, draw with, or otherwise entertain bored kids. Neighbors are offering to shop and gather supplies for elderly community members. Online communities are forming virtual support groups to help others feel less isolated. Friends are checking in with each other more than usual, letting down their guards and openly leaning on each other for support.
Grocery stores are stocking their shelves nonstop. Museums, zoos, and libraries are opening their virtual doors to educate young minds that are eager to explore and learn amid school closures. And a lot of people are showing up like they always do: doctors and nurses are still using their skills to treat and care for patients, pharmacists are still making sure our medicines are ready and available, sanitation workers are still collecting trash, postal workers are still delivering the mail, and police are still keeping us safe.
Kids are getting creative in their play. Sure, they’re probably enjoying extra screen time, but look harder. They’re venturing outside of their usual routines, too: working puzzles, building forts, and playing charades. Parents are engaging with their children in newfound ways and relishing in the connection. In between the time that they’re wondering what to cook out of the mismatch of pantry ingredients and wracking their brains for how to answer their unexpected call as homeschool teachers, they’re out in driveways making chalk drawings, hiking along trails they’d never be on if it were any average day last season, and laughing over games of “Go Fish.”
Now that we aren’t so rushed, we’re finding that we suddenly have time to clean out the pantry, paint the bathroom, plant that vegetable garden, or really engage with our kids. And we’re realizing, it’s kind of nice.
I’ve seen the same sentiment shared over and over online: how grateful people are to slow down and enjoy the little things we’d all been too busy to properly acknowledge before this unexpected pause in our lives. Ironic, isn’t it, that being forced apart from others seems to be strengthening our connectedness?
As frightening as this entire situation is, maybe it’s also somewhat of a blessing in disguise.
As much as I’d like to think otherwise, we’re a generation of instant gratification. We have services for everything under the sun to make our lives easier. Pay a fee and your groceries end up on your doorstep. Pay another one and you receive new pieces to add to your wardrobes each month, hand-selected by a personal shopper you’ve never met. Pay another one and someone shows up at your house to walk the dog around the block every day so you don’t have to. Instant. Easy. Impersonal.
We’re also overscheduled, constantly rushing, and consistently failing to give any one thing our full attention because our focus is splintered in 15 different directions. We sign up our kids for six different extra-curricular activities so we won’t have to figure out what to do with them if we allow them to sit idly at home. We thumb through our newsfeeds instead of enjoying a nightly family stroll. We forget to text or call friends just to say “hi.” We don’t know most of our neighbors, let alone check on them. And at any given moment, we can think of 10 household projects we’d love to tackle if we had the time.
Now, suddenly, we do.
And maybe, if we look beyond the fear and panic and turmoil, we’ll find that’s the silver lining to all of this.
We’re learning so much in such a short time. We’re learning to be patient—for a shipment of eggs to arrive, for answers about what the future holds. We’re learning how to make do with what we’ve got, from the contents of our freezers to the toys in our kids’ closets. We’re learning to structure our time, to be present, to use the last bit of ketchup before we throw out the bottle.
We’re learning the value of simple joys: splashing in puddles, baking bread, climbing trees, and laughing. We’re learning to take comfort in nature and the familiar fulfillment of stumbling upon a blooming flower, a singing bird, an exquisite sunset.
We’re learning to appreciate the things we’ve taken for granted for too long: the ability to send our kids to school, meet a coworker for happy hour, root for our favorite team, shake hands with a stranger, and hug a friend.
We’re learning that there’s beauty in boredom and creativity in chaos.
We’re remembering what really matters: not much else besides our loved ones and our lives. And we’re remembering how to be kind—to each other, and to ourselves.
This is our chance, y’all. It’s our opportunity to trade self-centeredness for connectedness, distraction for engagement, selfishness for selflessness. This is our chance to become the parents, the people we want to be.
We’ve learned so much in just a few short days. The lessons will abound as the days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months.
I just hope, once this is all over, that we don’t forget.