It seems impossible to write about anything other than the coronavirus. I welcome distractions as I scroll though my social media feed, pausing at the travel and fashion profiles I follow. And yet, I find I can’t focus on the content they offer. My mind keeps drifting to how different things are now and will be for what seems like an indeterminate future. I stare at my drafts folder, filled with ideas for posts for my own site, wondering if this is the time to finish writing the one about my favorite junk foods in foreign countries. But my heart is not in it. In this moment, I have to write about the coronavirus. Because after weeks of living in this bizarre reality, I’ve come to realize that social distancing has actually made me feel more connected in unexpected ways. Much of the conversation about the coronavirus has centered on what we’ve lost – a staggering amount of lives lost and jobs lost, a loss of movement and loss of normalcy. Yet, in processing all of this, in trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, I’ve found that things have been gained as well. We’ve gained an improvement in air quality. We’ve gained time. And from what I’ve observed in those around me and online, we’ve gained an appreciation for things which we had previously taken for granted.
While it’s fair to say that we’ve lost spring this year, I still find myself grateful that of all the seasons, it offers the most pleasant conditions in which to be stuck waiting in line outside of grocery stores. Standing outside Trader Joe’s, waiting my turn to enter and not wanting to touch my phone, I’ve passed the time by staring into the sky, noticing the blossoming trees and chirping birds, observing how the paint on the building has faded, guessing where other drivers were about to park, and effectively doing nothing but taking in my surroundings. When finally getting my turn to go inside the store, I’ve experienced a rush upon seeing that my milk was in stock and greeting it like an old friend. Finding another shelf empty, I’ve grabbed an alternative without hesitation or quickly came up with a new way to make do without the item I needed. When I think back to just a few months ago and how I would consider my day ruined because they were out of my favorite almond butter, I’m embarrassed for myself. But, oh how I look forward to the day I don’t have to set my alarm clock in order to buy toilet paper (the early bird gets the three-ply!).
I was reluctant to wear a mask because I found it uncomfortable and thought I looked silly. But then I saw my neighbors wearing masks. I saw the employees at Target wearing masks, and wondered if they ever expected that a job like that would entail putting their lives at risk. I saw that, as stressed out as we all are, people where I live are being nice to each other, keeping their distance as they wave hello from the other side of the street, following the rules and being civil, being considerate, being kind. And so I put on my mask, too. Honestly, after the 2016 election, I often wondered which way my neighbors had voted. Haven’t we all done that? In traffic, when you let a car get in front of you, and then see a bumper sticker that makes you either regret or affirm your decision. But now, it doesn’t matter. I know it will matter later. But in this moment, we have to look out for each other in order to get through this together.
When the shut-downs began, I immediately knew that I would be without a paycheck for a while. One afternoon, I got on my laptop and debated whether I should apply for a job to tide me over. The Amazon warehouse near me was hiring, but I worried about putting myself at risk and, more importantly, putting my family at risk. I opened up the folder on my computer containing the book I began writing last year, and wondered if this was the time to finish it. Glancing up from my screen, I saw outside my window that the little girl who lives down the street was riding her bike, wobbling a bit on her training wheels. As my job search gradually lost out to book writing, I would see her ride her bike outside my window around the same time each day. Yesterday, she rode by without her training wheels. I stood up and moved closer to the window, then yelled out, “You did it!” I remembered when I first learned to ride a bike. It’s one of those milestones of childhood. And this little girl had experienced her milestone during a quarantine. Would that be what she remembered the most about this period of time?
As someone who considers myself a member of the travel community tribe, it can certainly feel like our purpose is lost right now. What could possibly be gained from everything coming to a screeching halt? The answer is – opportunity. The opportunity to correct the damage of over-tourism. The opportunity to literally clear the air, reset, and do things better. The opportunity for those of us who are travel consumers to be more intentional in our journeys. The opportunity for airlines to not take passengers for granted. The opportunity to give each other space and respect. The opportunity to appreciate what we have and not take more than what we need.
After 9/11, I thought that life would be forever changed. And while, twenty years later, it became routine to take our shoes off at the airport, life otherwise returned to business as usual. And so I know it’s likely that five years from now we’ll all be vaccinated and crowding into tight spaces again and getting annoyed with each other. So, let us remember that, in this moment of distress, we cared about our neighbor, our society, our world. That people sang from balconies together. That a generation of children stopped going to school and instead made Tik Tok videos with their parents, and the kids were alright. That we finally recognized the value in the people who keep our society functioning. That many people lost more than others. That many people gave more than others. But that, despite our differences, we were reminded that we are all human. We are all susceptible, but we are all capable.