Some people have experienced significant loss, hardship, and a decline in physical and mental health during their lives. (I often think about Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment as an example of this type of personal suffering.) Other people have had some serious setbacks, such as a bankruptcy, death of a parent, or a chronic illness. And, other people, amazingly, have had few negative experiences in their lives. In times of crisis, people respond in varying ways, often depending on whether or not they have been through something worse. In this post, I will share my view on what types of things people missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with my analysis of the overall seriousness of this event, opportunity, or desire within the grand scheme of life.
Category 1: Optional Pursuits
This category includes things many people like to do, but are not necessary to do, in order to survive. These activities may be fun, and even exciting, but they are, in the larger sense, rather trivial. Examples are:
- Attending rock and roll (or other) concerts
- Recreational boating (David and I were boaters for 15 years and nothing bad ever happened to us during times we couldn’t go out on our boat.)
- Visiting theme parks
- Attending professional sporting events
- Participating in hobbies, such as bowling, swimming, tennis, golfing, pickle ball, card games, etc. etc. etc.
- Eating in restaurants
- Going to movies and plays
- Exercising in a gym or fitness center
- Listening to live music in a cocktail lounge or other setting
- Leisure travel
- Shopping for non essential items
- Going to the beauty salon, manicurist, etc.
- Going to casinos, jai alai, horse racing, etc.
Lest the reader think I am picking on anyone, I will point out that David and/or I have participated in almost all of these activities (don’t worry, pickle ball isn’t one of them!). This being said, neither of us have experienced any meaningful losses due to an inability to engage in these types of activities due to circumstances beyond our control.
Category 2: Meaningful Events
Items in this category are those I consider important in many people’s lives, such that their absence takes on more importance than missed opportunities contained in the first category. Examples are:
- Missing the chance to attend one’s, or a loved one’s, graduation ceremony, wedding, baptism, etc.
- Not being permitted to visit, in person, one’s elderly or frail loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living facilities (or elsewhere, for that matter) for an indefinite amount of time
- Being separated from one’s family on an indefinite basis due to military deployment, requirements of working in an “essential” job, such as in a health care setting or as a first responder
- Being unable to grieve the loss of a loved one due to an inability to be present at a dying person’s bedside, attend a funeral, or provide in person comfort to others who share in the loss
- Being unable to spend time, in person, with family or friends (research has repeatedly revealed the person toll that results from loneliness)
- Missing routine medical, dental, and veterinary appointments
- Being unable to have routine maintenance performed on one’s vehicle (not a recreational vehicle, such as a boat; rather, one’s primary means of transportation)
- Attendance of religious services
I spoke with countless people during the pandemic, each of whom has regaled me about the importance of milestone events in their lives, as well as the sense of regret that they will never get to see their grandson graduate from medical school, or their devastation over their inability to hold their dying husband’s hand as he gasped for his last breath, or the progression of a serious disease due to their physician’s ability to treat patients only in the event of an emergency. These sad situations are tragic, but they do not rise to the next level of events described below.
Category 3: Important and Necessary Activities
The final category, from my perspective, contains items which are necessary to many people’s survival (in a modern, industrial environment, as opposed to a tribal or agrarian environment). Examples include:
- Working or having another means of financial security for oneself and those for whom one is responsible
- Taking care of one’s physical and mental health
- Having surgery or other medical procedures performed to save one’s life or aid in managing a disease or injury (no, a nose job isn’t a life saving measure)
- Ensuring people who are unable to care for themselves, such as children, senior citizens, and financially unstable people have their needs met
- Having enough food to eat
- Having a safe place to live
Items in this category are, of course, necessary or required by most people in our country. It is important to realize, during times like those we experienced during the pandemic, which things are truly needed to survive, which things would increase our life satisfaction, and which things are the “icing on the cake” we call life. And, let’s spend our free time helping other people instead of feeling sorry for ourselves because The Rolling Stones cancelled their tour, or because we can’t spend every spare moment participating in water sports, or whatever else we do of a trivial nature. Try it.
Melissa wrote her part of this post some time ago, during the 2020 pandemic, and I’m playing catch up. In a way, it is interesting to see how things have worked out over time, due to changes triggered by a pandemic. Many things have changed permanently. Work place changes are a big and obvious change. Just today, I read about how some lawyers, especially young lawyers who have high billable hour demands, are having trouble meeting expectations when working remotely and, as a result, face the possibility of job loss. Personal preferences have changed in some ways that may not suit the suits who run law firms or other businesses. Because our business is built on putting groups of people together to discuss a lawsuit, and the pace of our work is dependent on the “normal” functioning of the court system, the pandemic greatly disrupted our business in ways from which we will never fully recover. Many cases on which we were to work settled, less than optimally, rather than delay resolution until an unknown time when the courts would re-open. Another example is that I’ve been working today to schedule client meetings for an out of town trip. This is something I did frequently, pre-pandemic, but now haven’t done in about 3 years. It is amazing how fast business practices, such as client meetings, have changed. I am getting back on the bicycle and it feels familiar. We missed so many things in the last few years, and as I pointed out, some of these things resulted in permanent changes. I know more people than ever who will avoid crowds more than they ever did. And, I hope more people than ever treasure their friends and families for the greatest missed opportunities are the lost opportunities with those friends and families who did not survive.