It was just a few months ago, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, that families had to come up with alternatives to big Passover seders. Now, with the High Holy Days approaching, many of those same families will have to devise work-arounds to the traditional Rosh Hashanah family dinners and other new year gatherings.
That planning is just the latest example of how much our world has been changed by COVID-19. Indeed, after months of being deprived of what were once considered “normal” activities, it’s easy to forget just how much has been taken from us. Beyond its most tragic and chilling effects – the nearly 200,000 deaths in the United States from the disease as of early September – the pandemic has transformed just about every aspect of our lives.
To recall just how far-reaching our losses have been, close your eyes as you dip your Rosh Hashanah challah or apple into honey and think about what may be in store for us in 5781. As you pray for better days ahead, try to imagine how vastly different the last six months would have been had we never heard of COVID-19. In that alternative reality, our lives would have unfolded like this:
- Seders would start and end with warm hugs and would be enjoyed by several generations of families gathered together.
- Students would have finished their school year in class, and remote learning would have been reserved for colleges that offer online courses.
- High school and college graduations would have taken place in May and June, as usual, instead of in July and August and virtually, if at all.
- March Madness would have referred to basketball, not to the world being thrust into chaos by a highly contagious virus.
- Area colleges would be getting ready to welcome their students back to campus, and most of those schools would have fall and winter sports seasons – and they would not have permanently eliminated sports such as golf, cross country, tennis, volleyball and lacrosse, thus depriving their undergrads of a key component of college life.
- Road races, including the 124th Boston Marathon and others to benefit charities, would have taken place, and we would never have known what it means to “run” a race virtually.
- The Pan-Mass Challenge would have gone off without a hitch this summer, and the other major event to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund, the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, would involve participants covering the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon course, instead of being confined to their neighborhoods as part of yet another virtual fundraiser.
- Scores of small, independently-owned businesses, museums, theaters and restaurants would not be on the brink of collapse, a situation that has some cities in danger of turning into ghost towns.
- Our economy wouldn’t be in serious danger of slipping into a depression – and our political leaders would have found things to bicker about other than trillion-dollar relief packages.
- My longtime barber, and not my wife, would be trimming my beard and mustache.
- Masked people walking into banks, stores or service stations would trigger burglar alarms, instead of being viewed as a necessary requirement.
- Taylor Swift would have been one of many entertainers to give concerts before 60,000-plus fans at Gillette Stadium this summer, and sports fans would never have heard of playing games in a “bubble” or with piped-in crowd noise.
- Pawtucket Red Sox fans would have been savoring the team’s final summer at McCoy Stadium.
- We’d have enjoyed an out-of-state summer vacation, and the seashores of Cape Cod, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire would have remained popular destinations – instead of becoming flash points for governors and local officials to impose tighter restrictions aimed at keeping tourists away.
- Parents would be focused on finding the best back-to-school sales, instead of wondering and worrying about how safe it is for their kids to go back to school.
- A “hybrid model” would refer to the latest electric-gas car manufactured by automakers, not to a mix of in-school and online learning.
- Long-established clothing-store chains wouldn’t be in financial trouble, or even bankruptcy, because people who work from home don’t need new clothes.
- Those of us who raised kids in the 1990s and early 2000s would still think of “Zoom” as a popular PBS show (extra credit if you know the words to the “Zoom” theme song) and would be blissfully unaware of its meaning as an indispensable online crowd-sharing platform.
Yes, we really did lose all that – and a whole lot more. It’s hard to believe we’ve been missing so many once-integral parts of our former lives. But that’s what happens when we’re forced for months to forgo many of the things that make us human.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah this year, we’re praying for our loved ones’ health and safety, as well as worrying about how many more aspects of our lives that we once took for granted we’ll lose to this modern-day biblical plague that shows no signs of going away.
LARRY KESSLER (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He wishes you a sweet, healthy – and hopeful – new year.