As I write this in mid-March, uncertainty abounds over the coronavirus pandemic, but one thing is certain: No matter how long the outbreak and its fallout last, it has already hurt the quality of our lives, and has made us care more deeply about activities that we otherwise take for granted.
Even though most Americans realize it’s a serious situation, it’s hard to accept the severe restrictions imposed on our personal lives because of the virus, especially since past pandemics, including the H1N1 swine flu in 2009-10, never reached this level. For instance, in those other outbreaks, people weren’t thrown out of work, closed off from their schools and houses of worship, or told that they couldn’t patronize bars and restaurants. Not since 9/11 has American life changed so dramatically and so rapidly.
What’s been especially tough about this particular crisis – which has emptied supermarket shelves and drained us of our good humor and much of our positive outlook on life – is that it has stolen from us the very things that make us human.
Think about it. Thanks to a phrase that sounds like it came right out of George Orwell’s “1984” – the sterile term “social distancing” – we’re now either too panicked or too cautious to greet friends with hugs or handshakes. We also can no longer meet friends for lunch or dinner – or take our spouses and families out for a night on the town, since cinemas, live theater, museums and even zoos have been shuttered.
And to make the restrictions even more difficult to bear, many people are no doubt going to think twice about opening up their homes for Passover seders with friends and relatives – something that many of us look forward to year after year.
At least for the foreseeable future, we can no longer count on enjoying the simple pleasures in life, and that’s taking a terrible toll on our psyches. The sad truth is that, although corporations hurt by COVID-19 might be bailed out with billions, just as they were after the Great Recession of 2008-09, no one will be able to bail average Americans out of the many missed moments that this scourge has produced. For instance:
• Students may not be able to walk across the stage to accept their high school, undergraduate or graduate degrees.
• College and high school athletes are missing a whole season of sports, including the wildly popular March Madness.
• Students at every level will have a far less fulfilling school year as a result of missing what used to be a normal classroom-based education.
• Major community events put on by nonprofits, which serve the dual purpose of nurturing our need for fellowship and raising essential funds for an agency or a museum, for instance, are being wiped out. The cancellation, for example, of the Attleboro Arts Museum’s hugely popular flower show, which brings a smile to the hundreds who attend over four days and raises $30,000 to keep the museum in the black, is merely one example of how so many charitable groups and nonprofits have been adversely affected by this outbreak.
• The absence of sports at all levels has created a particularly painful void in the lives of those of us who embrace athletic events. I’m especially talking about the absence of baseball, which has delivered a blow to the spirits of people like myself, who relish reading about and watching the games.
And speaking of baseball, fans look forward all winter to spending spring and summer afternoons and evenings at McCoy Stadium, in Pawtucket, where the game’s action often takes a back seat to the conversations between friends old and new.
That tradition is as old as the game itself, and always reconnects me to the days when I went to Boston Red Sox games with my dad. Those years instilled a lifelong love of baseball in me, so I’m particularly depressed to think that there might not be any professional baseball in 2020.
Such an outcome would be especially distressing in Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, because that would mean that the 2019 PawSox season will have wound up being its last one, since the Red Sox’ Triple A farm team is moving to Worcester in 2021.
Of course, the absence of sports and the other activities that we’re missing out on is secondary to the well-being of everyone, so let us hope and pray that the current threat doesn’t endure for months – and that we emerge from this unsettling period in good health.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.