My last post on what we’ve forgotten about the early days of COVID dwelled on the deaths that resulted from a poor response and the unrequited toil of so-called “essential workers.” A reader helpfully reminded me that we have forgotten the less horrifying aspects of the lockdown period, too. There was a real yearning for connection, a true desire among many for collective sacrifice, and an opportunity to reflect once the rhythms of life had been disrupted.
I am writing this from my friend’s cabin in the woods of central Pennsylvania. It is not the kind of place renowned by travelers or cited as a getaway destination, but its humility agrees with me. I got here last night, and as I write, I am waiting for my friend to join me. The quiet and solitude are things that the lockdown perversely taught me to appreciate.
While I was stuck at home like so many others who were telecommuting, my family was, too. The days rushed by in a tornado of stressful activity. My workday lasted from when I woke up at six in the morning to around seven or eight at night most days. My teaching work meant completely changing over my courses on the fly, and increased grading to account for asynchronous work. Parenting duties, like supervising my children’s learning and preparing meals, existed alongside this work. After the initial weeks we developed a “linner” solution where we plied the kids with snacks until 3 PM when we could prepare a big meal, usually ravenously scarfed down before doing more work.
Initially, not having my brutal commute into New York from New Jersey seemed like the one silver lining of this arrangement. Over time, however, I realized that my commute had baked two crucial moments of solitude into my daily life. I usually spent my train commute reading for pleasure, a crucial practice for my inner equilibrium that had been disrupted. Sitting here right now at the kitchen table in a cabin in the middle of nowhere feels absolutely blissful in ways I could not have imagined before March, 2020.
In lockdown, I paradoxically grew to appreciate both solitude and time with my kids. Before lockdown, my daily commute meant getting home around 5, getting dinner prepared, then zoning out from exhaustion before the kids went to bed. In lockdown, I must have spent more time with them in two months than I had during the last two school years combined. Now that lockdown has ended I am much more conscious of spending time with my children after work. I try to do things with them in those hours between dinner and bed, instead of zoning out on the couch.
My newfound appreciations of solitude and family time were just two of a whole host of revelations brought on by lockdown’s disruptions. Before lockdown I had despaired of the inability to find new friends in middle age. In a desperate bid to keep the kids occupied, the father of one of my children’s friends reached out and organized some outdoor activities at local parks and playgrounds with the kids’ friend group. Soon we dads hit it off, and come summer we were hanging out together in backyards and on back porches. Paradoxically, the pandemic had created my least lonely summer since moving to suburban New Jersy and a group of cherished friends.
I have grown to appreciate and prioritize many more things, such as time with my parents, travel, and seeing live music. I missed these things in 2020, and their loss proved their meaning. Three years on, I am glad that COVID pretty much no longer disrupts my life, but I do not want to forget the insights that came from those disruptions. It was a horrible time full of death and stress, but perhaps unique in its ability to teach us what really matters.
Great piece. While I can’t forget the ongoing consequences of the pandemic and our country’s response to it, the lockdown period forced me to reassess my priorities and refocus on my family. It also coincided with a more general (and ongoing) midlife reassessment-- what am I choosing to do with the rest of my one precious life? I’m happy with the changes I’ve made to my life as a result.
Hear. Hear. Critical lessons learned that I hope we can hold onto.