By Jon Regardie
In the time of the coronavirus, many of us have one thing in common: We’d do just about anything to gain access to Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies. Just think— those doors swing up instead of out!
Of course, it would also be nice to pull a Marty McFly and zip out of 2020 and into the past or the future, and to escape the incessant conversations and dark inner thoughts related to illness, death, quarantine, lost work and depleted bank accounts. About the only discussion that’s any fun these days is the one where you talk with friends about what to stream, and even that grows old after the 37th time (though I personally recommend the BBC’s “Sherlock” and anything Hitchcock).
To state the obvious, this is a difficult, worrisome and for too many a tragic time. It’s hard to smile when headlines inform that more Americans have died of COVID-19 than perished in the Vietnam War. Businesses that people poured their lives into have been wrecked. Paying monthly rent can seem a Sisyphean task. When the best thing you can say is that your job has been furloughed instead of eliminated, that’s the iciest of cold comforts.
Certainly, one can point to harsher periods in history. It was probably worse living through The Blitz in World War II, or the Thirty Years War that ravaged Central Europe in the 17th century. And one can only imagine the psychological damage inflicted on those who, in 1987, had the misfortune of making the box office stinker Ishtar.
But history is, well, history, and reasoning that the Black Death pandemic of the mid-1300s was worse than the coronavirus hardly makes one feel better. I too tumbled down the rabbit hole of Internet research and now know a lot about the 1918 Spanish flu that killed as estimated 20- to 50-million people, but I can’t see a strong upside to this knowledge beyond it paying off if I somehow wind up a contestant on “Jeopardy!”
Yet these are the cards we’ve been dealt, the reality we’re facing, the cliché I’m using, and at a certain point you can either choose to wallow or, if you’re fortunate enough not to have been touched by the worst kind of tragedy, to lean in to the crisis.
Yes, things are that bad—I’m utilizing “lean in” imagery.
That said, after more than a month of avoiding friends and strangers like the plague (maybe not the best analogy), I have managed to stop worrying. Not always, but a lot of the time.
I’ve accepted the routines of the new normal, which starts with not rolling my eyes when referencing the “new normal.” I avoid crowds, don’t complain about waiting in a line before entering the farmer’s market, and can mentally demarcate a six-foot barrier in every direction around me. I no longer chafe at donning a mask, even if I look like the idiot bank robber who didn’t read the whole memo to show up at the crime scene with a ski mask.
I can embrace my fortunes, even if they’re not monetary (and as a freelance journalist working in a shrinking media landscape, there are very few assignments). Actually, I’m lucky—my septuagenarian parents may live 3,000 miles away, but they’re safe, healthy and master Zoom three out of every five times they try to connect with their grandkids. My wife is a brilliant cook and last night made homemade meatballs and two nights before that whipped up a dish of golden sole with a beurre blanc sauce. My children, who are fast approaching their teens, remain generally sweet, and even if my son had the spring park baseball league he treasures snatched from his grasp, we get exercise and time together by riding bikes at a nearby college campus or flinging the Frisbee at a local park. I happily help my daughter practice her karate after her daily online class ends—she hasn’t even once accidentally kicked me in the head!
I’m far from perfect. I can lose my patience. My wife has heard each one of my jokes at least 675 times. And the other evening I screwed up big time by filling family movie night (which is now every night) with the execrable 2006 Adam Sandler film Click.
As spring slips into summer and the idea of a family beach vacation dissipates like smoke wafting into the atmosphere, I look for the little victories, knowing that the big ones will be there, but not just yet. The unexpected call I got from a work acquaintance, just to say hi and catch up, lightened my day, and inspired me to do the same for someone else. I’m also winning that seemingly unwinnable fight—extra time at home means the bedside mountain of New Yorkers is being methodically cut down, and I have finally accepted that it’s okay not to read every article.
The coronavirus will pass, just as the Black Death, the Spanish flu and Ishtar passed. We will emerge healthy and hopefully with antibodies or a vaccine. We may no longer shake hands or sit next to strangers in movie houses. We may even continue to be nice to each other.
None of us like this time, but I have come to live with it, and even to cherish a few fleeting moments, like the Monopoly and Uno matches that bring our full family to the kitchen table, or the way my son loves to carry our immense, 18-pound cat around the house. I miss my Sunday morning basketball game, but if that’s among my biggest regrets during this period, then I’m coming out ahead.
Maybe once this is all over I’ll get a DeLorean. Then again, maybe not. Cool doors aren’t all that important.