When’s the last time you checked in on your friends, extended family, and neighbors just to see how they’re doing?
For me, it was this morning, as I have been doing nearly every morning over the past three weeks, but before that, it was maybe once every few months.
I remember years ago my grandmother would call her friends weekly just to check on them and I never quite understood why — now I do. COVID-19 will restructure America in many ways, not the least of which is how we as a country socialize.
Two months ago, America was fast-paced and as booming as usual. We all went to work, some of us at multiple jobs, and minded our own business. Sure, we would be social, particularly here in Washington, where everything seems to happen in close quarters at bars, but we remained selfish and in our own bubble. All that changed in the matter of a few days, as our country began locking down for the pandemic.
If you’re like me, you watched borders close and barely flinched, you figured it wouldn’t change too many aspects of your life — but then bar seating was stopped, then restaurants shut down, then in some cases — non-essential businesses. Next, quarantine in place was ordered for some counties and unless you’re an ignorant college student on spring break in Florida, you couldn’t help but realize that this was a worst case scenario.
When Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland first announced the shut downs of restaurants, I was headed on a drive to North Carolina alone to enjoy parks and being away from the hustle of politics in the city — but I immediately turned around to head back to Maryland to check on my friends — it was at that moment that our world wasn’t as safe as it once was.
It reminded me of what happened on 9/11 — when it happened, we as a country collectively had the same feelings at the same time. It wasn’t about individuals anymore, it was about all of us together — and it still is. Instead of pushing ahead on our own selfish journey, we took the time to be concerned about our neighbors and fellow Americans — and that’s where we are yet again.
I suddenly remembered all of my friends who had asthma growing up; those with kids; and those whose parents had fought cancer — and I made sure to check in with them all — something that wouldn’t have crossed my mind just days before.
One of my neighbors is elderly and immunocompromised — and I didn’t learn that from their oversharing, I learned it because for the first time in four years of living in my apartment in DC, we sat on our porches a mere 15 feet away and had a real conversation with each other. I didn’t even know their name until now and I live next door.
Dating apps, when I finally decided to turn them back on, were suddenly a place to commiserate with strangers and actually learn about who the person is on the inside, not just superficially swipe and jump to drinks. There’s actual thoughtful communication happening on what, in a time without bars, has become the primary way to meet and engage with new people — you could also yell at someone from across a park, but that would be a bit bizarre.
Speaking of parks, I go to them more now — and I leave my headphones off. I appreciate the outdoors now more for exercise now that I spend a majority of the day working indoors in my apartment — and the silence has a quiet calm to it, as opposed to the constant gloom that watching national news presents. I took for granted that my place was a mere three-quarters of a mile from the National Mall, one of the nation’s most beautiful tourist destinations, until everything began shutting down.
My grandmother understood what this was like. She, as many of our elders, had lived through World Wars, stock market crashes and pandemics more than any of us will hopefully ever experience. This led to her appreciation of the little things — like the outdoors, taking time to observe nature and learning about your neighbors — and she appreciated the big things — like family and close friends.
Many of us didn’t understand it. We thought we did after 9/11, but just mere months after, we went back to business as usual. Yes, this pandemic is awful, yet it has a silver lining, an opportunity for many of us to have a second chance to rethink the way we live our lives — how we care about each other, and how we appreciate what matters most.
We won’t get many hard smacks in the faces to be reminded to be more thoughtful and better people to one another — hopefully you and I won’t ignore this one.
• Tim Young is a political comedian and author of “I Hate Democrats/I Hate Republicans” (Post Hill Press).
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