If summer is traditionally the season of letting loose, the onset of fall signals a return to reality. In a typical year, fall means students and teachers going back to school to begin a new term, and workers returning to the office after summer vacations. It means sweater weather, leaf-peeping, autumnally-spice lattes (love ‘em or hate ‘em) and articles talking about “cuffing season.”
Needless to say, this is not a typical year. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of our lives: how we socialize, how we work, how we communicate, how we shop, how (or whether) we travel, and how we spend our free time. School looks different. Work looks different. We look different, with our DIY haircuts and ubiquitous face masks.
As we head into our third season and eighth month with Covid-19, there’s so much I miss about “normal life”: seeing live music, going to the movies, having friends over for dinner, not worrying about a scary, infectious virus all the time.
But it’s worth remembering that our pre-Covid world wasn’t perfect. There are parts of my old life that I don’t miss at all, like awkward small-talk at business conferences, or all those afterwork drink meetings with prospective investors when I would’ve rather been home cooking dinner with my partner.
These days, my partner and I cook dinner together almost every night, and we get to eat lunch together, too. Pre-Covid, I liked taking lunchtime walks in the park near my office. Now that I’m working from home full-time, I’ve been taking long walks through my own neighborhood, discovering things I’d never noticed in the four years I’ve lived here: the architectural detail on the building across the street; the urban gardeners who put so much care into their window boxes; the huge, beautiful tree up the block. I recognize a lot more of my neighbors (even under our masks!) and am finally on a first-name basis with a couple of local shopkeepers.
My Getaway colleagues have also found that some of the changes they’ve made in response to the pandemic feel like genuine improvements. Lots of us are meal-planning and cooking more. Emily traded her subway commute for regular morning runs; Kai canceled his gym membership and invested in a bike. Shayna has been setting aside time each night for a phone call with a loved one. Rebecca took advantage of remote work to visit family she usually only sees during the holidays. Natalie started kayaking at sunset, Mike is hiking in state parks, and Harini has been painting her old furniture to make it look new again.
One of my favorite thinkers on human connection in the digital age, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, has warned that overreliance on digital technology can be isolating. But in the coronavirus age, our screens have become a lifeline for connection and community-building. Actors are live-streaming plays from their living rooms; choirs are finding harmonies across Zoom boxes; educators and experts are taking to social media to offer free lectures, tutorials, and mentorship opportunities. “This is a different life on the screen from disappearing into a video game or polishing one’s avatar,” Turkle says. “This is breaking open a medium with human generosity and empathy… If, moving forward, we apply our most human instincts to our devices, that will have been a powerful COVID-19 legacy.”
Meanwhile offscreen, musicians are performing for passersby from their porches and balconies. Mutual aid groups are organizing to make sure community members have the resources they need. People are sending handwritten letters and postcards for the first time since getting an email address.
As summer gives way to fall and we turn another page on this very strange year, I’ve found it helpful to pause and take stock of the recent changes in my life that actually feel good. If you’ve also discovered better ways of living in the Covid era, we’d love to hear about them. Email [[email protected]] to tell us about a new good thing in your life.