Business Casual: The Other Side

Over the last weeks, I have been both heartened and alarmed at how adaptable we all are, collectively and individually.

The branches on the old willow oak that soars a good 60 feet outside my front window were practically bare the day, many weeks ago, that the world – and I – got serious about facing the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic and accepting it as a governing force in our lives.

Except for a few careful, guideline-following trips out for food and other necessities, and an occasional drive around the neighborhood to keep the car battery charged, I’ve been homebound ever since.

The branches are green now, just like they are every year, covered with the slender, graceful little leaves that distinguish the tree from other, mightier oaks. Yet there are many changes to contend with these days, along with the cautious hope that an end to our isolation is coming. There’s some dread, too – have we become like caged birds, so comfortable with our imprisonment that we will retain the fear of presenting ourselves to an outside world and the harm we have realized is lurking there?

Over the last weeks, I have been both heartened and alarmed at how adaptable we all are, collectively and individually. It has become instinctive to separate ourselves physically from others, maintaining the six feet of recommended distance – often more; to look askance at someone who breaches the new norms. The mere sound of a cough, however remote, raises alarms.

Walking out the front door without gloves or mask or apprehension seems like a vague memory of a more innocent time. So does unloading groceries without wiping them down. And so does worrying that some unwiped corner of a cereal box might do me in despite all the diligent rule-following.

I’ve worked from home for many years – relishing the casual dress code, the flexible hours and the fact that rush hour happens without me. The short walk from kitchen coffeemaker to office computer is comfortable and familiar. I’ve lived alone long enough to be fine with it – even, most days, to like it. But I have become aware how reliant that independence is on family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, interaction with colleagues and random encounters with neighbors.

On bad days of late, I’ve been known to sit around in sweatpants, watch HGTV and eat popcorn; on good days, I am more purposefully occupied – I’ve actually cleaned out a few drawers and closet spaces.

On good and bad days, I miss my grandchildren, even though they are being educated and entertained heroically by their working-from-home parents. FaceTime chats have assured me they are the same sweet, funny, squabbling creatures they have always been. But it isn’t the same as an in-person visit with hugs.

I’m sure I am not alone in feeling occasionally mopey but always conscious of my good fortune in remaining healthy and having the luxury of moping in the safety of my own home.

Mine doesn’t begin to compare to the situations of those working on the front lines of the healthcare emergency in hospitals or clinics, or even those who are stocking grocery shelves or making deliveries. (One friend observed how sadly ironic it is that the people so many have been reluctant to pay $15 an hour for their labor are the ones who are making our lives work right now.)

Phone visits with friends are sustaining, as are virtual happy hours. So are silly cartoons and somber poems that show up in my inbox or on social media at just the right moment.

Lots of people have observed that a time like this brings out the best and the worst in people – the kindnesses and the small courtesies contrasting with the selfish defiance of those attending beach parties and crowded church services or otherwise disregarding distancing orders.

I don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of this. Will we ever go back to shaking hands? Will we feel comfortable at sporting events or concerts? Will we ever talk of something besides the virus?

My grandson asked me what the first thing is that I want to do when all this is over. Easy question. I want to be sitting with him and his family at the loud, rowdy, too-kid-friendly neighborhood pizza joint near my house, listening to him and his sister talk about their day’s activities and trying to have a grownup conversation with their parents over the din.

You know, something normal.

Categories: Business Casual, Opinions