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The Case for Enjoying the Present in a Pandemic

I want the pandemic to be over, but I will not sit around in despair waiting for it to pass. Every day, the here and now is the only thing we know for sure that we’ve got and there’s no sense wasting it.
[additional-authors]
October 20, 2020
Photo by kieferpix/Getty Images

This is a strange and unprecedented time in my life—as it is for everyone. I am living conscientiously by the guidelines prescribed by the CDC during this COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions have upended my 80 years of life as I have known it. I am surrounded by people who are frustrated, angry, depressed, pessimistic, and sad. I am trying not to be any of those things, and, so far, I have been reasonably successful.

Around me, I hear people saying things like “after this is over…”, or “I can’t wait until…”, or “this is the new normal…”, or wondering what the new normal will actually be and when. But I am thinking differently.

At my age, the age of most of my peers, I can only imagine the future as a big question mark. For example, what are the chances that I will travel again beyond the distance dictated by my bladder? This fall, my husband Eli and I intended to visit our college-age grandchildren on the east coast: a trip to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, and New York City. By next fall, will traveling be an option for us? Will we be able to sustain such a trip? Will we ever go to Disney Hall, the Wallis theater, or to movies at the Landmark again? Will we ever settle into a comfortable booth at the Grill on the Alley with good friends and a perfect martini again?

Unclear. The pandemic isn’t on our side. Time isn’t on our side either, as we are reminded over and over again, by the loss of friends and acquaintances with alarming rapidity, that time doesn’t have a placeholder.

Time, only this time, is what we have now. I want the pandemic to be over, but I will not sit around in despair waiting for it to pass. Every day, the here and now is the only thing we know for sure that we’ve got and there’s no sense wasting it. Clichés like “Wake up and smell the coffee” mean something now. Really — wake up and smell it.

Clichés like “Wake up and smell the coffee” mean something now. Really— wake up and smell it.

The saplings that we planted in five-gallon cans more than 50 years ago have become majestic trees, with multiple trunks and spreading branches. Now, we are really noticing their dramatic beauty and enjoying the shade they cast over the hot bricks in our yard. Dinnertime — which was often a necessary intermission between work and work — is now an occasion that punctuates the day. Watching a series like The Crown, two episodes in a sitting, a luxury we never enjoyed before, is a new indulgence.

At this end of the spectrum of our lives, taking time to reminisce provides reassurance as well. Remembering all of the things we have done, the places we’ve gone, the people we’ve worked with and learned from and been comforted by is uplifting. A helicopter landing on a mountaintop, an exploration of Petra, a raft down the rapids of an Amazon tributary, a walk on the Great Wall of China during a snow storm—all of these remarkable experiences are worthy of revisiting at leisure.

Remembering those glorious experiences is a much better way to spend our time than repeating a litany of all that we are deprived of today. Remembering occasions like sitting in the Kennedy seats at the Bork hearing, meeting with Palestinians in Ramallah, and having dinner with Ray Bradbury reminds us of the extraordinary people we have met who have painted our lives in brilliant color.

So now, as the pandemic requires us to stay home, we do it with gratitude for the beauty of the rooms that we have curated for five decades but have rarely stayed put in long enough to breathe. The urgency that has driven us all of our lives to search and to seek, to compete and to accomplish, to aspire and to reach can be replaced with calm tranquility now—if we allow it to. We can sift through our relationships to deepen those that we treasure most and acknowledge that there are many we value but cannot nurture right now. We can do a lot of things other than miss what we are missing, grieve for what we can’t do or have, or worry about what will be.

On the glorious day that we can open our doors again, set the table for ten, welcome our guests, hug our families, blow out the candles on a birthday cake, board a plane, eat in a restaurant, sit next to a stranger in the theater, and walk outside mask-free, I’ll be as happy as the happiest person anywhere. In the meantime, I’ll look for the compensations of this time and recognize that they are not substitutions for the real thing; today, they are the real thing. It’s what we’ve got, and I’ll take it.


Rochelle Ginsburg, educator, facilitates book group discussions for adult readers.

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