In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
— Dave Hollis
A few weeks ago I was talking with a colleague about England’s road map out of lockdown. He said he felt cautiously optimistic and that he’d made a wish list of things he wants to do again when it’s possible. He asked if I’d made a list. I said no, it hadn’t occurred to me. That wasn’t entirely true. It’s not so much that it hadn’t occurred to me. At some level it feels wrong to me, even unhealthy, to make a list like that because I’d be wishing for things that are no longer possible or available.
Like most of us, I suppose, I spent the first months of lockdown imagining a time when things would start getting back to normal — or at least to something resembling how things were before. Being back in the office. Holidays. Meeting friends for coffee, drinks, meals, or days out. Hugs. As the weeks and months passed those hopes receded, but they still felt feasible. Out there somewhere a “near normal” future was waiting for me.
At some point, though, it dawned on me that things will never return to how they used to be. The impact of covid, of lockdown, of all the changes we lived through last year and are still living through, is simply too great for us to pick up where we left off. Vaccinations will allow us to move forward but right now, as England begins gradually to open up again, I can only see that many things I valued (and some I took for granted) have already gone beyond any hope of retrieval. Others may resume, but they won’t be the same. I’m not the same. We aren’t the same. How could we be, with all we have gone through?
The holiday cottage I’ve been going to for decades, the one that felt like a second home? I had to cancel two planned visits last year but what if I never get to go back because the lady who owns it — who is practically family after all these years — decides reopening is too much to deal with, with all the new restrictions, and the risk that people may cancel at short notice?
The Wateredge Inn in Ambleside, which is one of my favourite places in the world? Maybe I’ll sit there again beside the lake with a pint and my notebooks, but it won’t be this year. What if it’s never?
STACK Newcastle, my go-to hangout until covid struck, where I’ve had so many good times hanging out with friends, or calling in on my own for a beer and a falafel wrap? The venue is set to reopen and I dare say I’ll go back at some point, but with social distancing and having to book in advance the atmosphere will never be the same. What if it never feels warm and welcoming — a Marty place — again?
The Frankie & Bennie’s restaurant in Newcastle I’ve visited for years? There’s no “what if?” about this one — it never reopened after the first lockdown and is closed permanently.
My two favourite coffee shops, where I’d sit and write, or meet up with friends, and where I always felt welcome and at ease? I’m more optimistic about these but what if they never reopen fully, or are too busy and cramped to feel comfortable again?
There are bigger things to focus on, you might be thinking. Mourning the loss of my holidays, favourite coffee shops and bars hardly registers when set against the devastating hurt and loss others have endured in the past year. These are the “little things” of my life, though. The little things that are actually the big things. Because it’s not about the coffee shop, or the pub, or the bar. Not really. It’s about the connections they represented, facilitated, and hosted.
When lockdown first hit I feared my local friendships might falter because they were born — and thrived — in meet-ups for coffee and drinks, days out, and time shared face-to-face. In fact, they flourished and grew, as we replaced face-to-face encounters with online chat, voice and video calls. They transitioned, successfully if not always seamlessly, from in person friendships to online ones. And I have some prior experience and success with those. I do wonder how things will be, when we’re finally able to meet again in person, but as with the outer trappings of my BC (before covid) life there is no going back. Only forward.
So no, I don’t have a list of things I want to do again. “Like it used to be” or “like we used to do” are false hopes, illusions, to my current way of thinking at least. Instead, I will hold myself open to whatever is possible, available, present, and real.
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash