It’s been 11 months and counting. Don’t leave your house. Can’t see your family or visit your friends. Don’t travel. Can’t go to restaurants. Grocery store aisles have arrows to tell us which direction we are allowed to walk. And God forbid if you forgot that bottle of salad dressing and turn around to grab it. No can do: Wrong way. Months and months of “can’ts” and “don’ts” have partnered up with an endless supply of “nos” and “better nots.” The coronavirus pandemic has sure made us miserable, right? Now, with a vaccine on the way, we can soon say goodbye to COVID and its carnage and move on with our lives. Goodbye and good riddance, yes?
Not so fast.
What comes next is not intended to be insensitive or in any way demeaning to the many families who lost loved ones or the countless businesses that were crippled and often crushed under the weight of COVID related rules, regulations and closings. That said, we are going to miss this pandemic. Not the losses of life and economic brutality that it has wrought. Not the germs and buckets of hand sanitizer, or the missed birthday parties, graduations, births or weddings. Not the time lost with family and friends that can never be clawed back and reclaimed. None of that.
What we will miss, though, is us. We.
This pandemic sent a clear message to anyone who was listening. Slow down, appreciate your life, put your arms around your loved ones. Talk, laugh, stream shows and play games. Get to know each other. Don’t just do what you have to do. Do what you need to do. Read and play with your kids. Build forts and Lego towers. Rub your pet’s bellies. Open up a book. Get some rest. Catch up.
All of this good happened — it really did — despite the turmoil and exponentially rising stress meters caused by unsettling financial pressures and the raging divisiveness of our presidential election cycle. Remote learning, virtual meetings, social distancing and lockdowns all became a part of our daily conversation. But there was a blessing in there for those of us who looked and thought and worked for it. Let’s take a walk. A cup of coffee together in the morning. Wine, hot chocolate and a movie at night. A little extra roll around in bed after the lights went out. Small things, everyday things. They became bigger. More meaningful.
Families were put to the togetherness test, maybe like never before. Siblings whose lives long ago went down different paths were now back home, in their old rooms, watching TV and looking across the table at each other like they did when they were young. Aging and maturity brought a bloom to those very same relationships that were long ago dampened by childhood competitions and jealousies. While some parents grumbled at their refilling nests, others relished in this unexpected gift of time, of togetherness, of intimacy.
Many parents learned. They came to find that a child couldn’t pay attention in class or had a fight with a best friend. Sons and daughters who were on what looked like successful paths to adulthood shared their losses, insecurities and anxieties. Parents listened and hoped.
Couples whose relationships were strained during COVID often found themselves inside the old Martha and the Vandellas song: “nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide.” Many of us, though, found a way to tighten our bindings, appreciate and enjoy each other. We worked together and examined our finances. “Look how much we spend on coffee each month! On take out!” We cleaned our houses and painted rooms. The daily rush of “too busy” was quietly slowed. We took our time because, of course, there was almost nowhere to go and not much to do. We cooked breakfast and played cards. We adopted pets. We laughed and loved.
There is an adage that “all good things must come to an end.” No one will ever say that COVID was a good thing, but it most certainly will come to an end. What about all that we learned and did and gained from all of this time we had with our families and loved ones? The extra “we” time? The smiles on our faces when we think of when it was just “us”? Will that too come to an end?
We hope not.
Married for 34 years, Julie and David Bulitt (firstname.lastname@example.org) are, respectively, a family therapist and divorce lawyer. They are co-authors of “The Five Core Conversations for Couples.”