COVID’s Life Lessons
IN THE CLOSING MINUTES of the NCAA lacrosse championship game between Virginia and Maryland on Memorial Day, emotions were running so high on the sidelines that there was apparently a heated verbal confrontation between the two coaching staffs.
Although the skirmish was out of view of television cameras, one of the commentators witnessed it and expressed surprise at the display of what he called “smack talk.” The game was close (Virginia won by a goal); the stakes were high. Why would a dustup between coaches surprise him? He had, he said, expected sportsmanship to be stronger in a post-COVID era when players and coaches would just be thankful to be playing again, finally.
His comments made a kind of sense. After a year of performing in silent arenas and stadiums in front of cardboard cutouts, didn’t it stand to reason that everyone would be so thrilled to be back that no one would dare utter a discouraging word, let alone engage in smack talk”? In other words, hasn’t the pandemic changed us? And for the better? That’s what he thought. Or hoped, maybe.
He’s not alone. Didn’t we all harbor some secret hope, if not expectation, that we’d come away from this shared experience with a little more patience, a little more grace? That we’d become less demanding, better able to deal with disappointment, more willing to express our gratitude for being alive? Hadn’t COVID-19 taught us anything?
Well, maybe not.
TAKE THE NBA PLAYOFFS. A Boston Celtics fan narrowly missed hitting Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving in the head with a water bottle; someone dumped a bag of popcorn on Washington Wizards’ star Russell Westbrook in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love; and a security guard tackled a “fan” who was running onto the court at Capitol One Arena in Washington. Glad to have those fans back, right?
Or take the friendly skies. A Southwest Airlines passenger punched a flight attendant in the face and knocked out two teeth when she insisted the passenger stay seated while the plane was taxiing to the gate. That was one of 477 cases of passenger misconduct on Southwest alone between April 8 and May 15. Altogether, the FAA has received almost 2,500 complaints of unruly behavior this year, many about the TSA requirement that passengers wear masks. More patience? Less demanding?
And take the epidemic of gun violence. Although shootings never stopped during the pandemic, they did disappear from the headlines. Now they’re back on the front pages. An incident of road rage results in the death of a six-year-old in California. There are public shootings in San Jose and Atlanta, in Miami and Indianapolis, and on and on.
Whatever we might have learned while living through a pandemic, it doesn’t seem to have taken hold.
BUT GIVE THIS A TRY. Open up your favorite Internet search engine and type this in the box: “Covid-19 has taught us lessons of life.” Look at the responses you’ll get.
AARP offers 15 lessons while both the American Optometric Association and Women in Technology International have eight apiece. And there are dozens such pages.
Much of the advice and many of the observations overlap and are obvious. Here are few of the more common lessons:
· Humans are social creatures who crave, even require, contact with other human beings, especially family.
· Technology is invaluable, permitting distance learning, work from home and even binge-streaming movies.
· For better and worse, the virus has demonstrated what it means for us to be global citizens in an interconnected world.
· Science is important.
· We can be flexible and adaptable and resilient when we must be.
· And, of course, washing your hands is always a good idea.
Like that sportscaster, I wanted to believe that we might heed some of the lessons, take some of the advice, and maybe just be better sports. Like him, I’m surprised. Surprised and dismayed by how little we’ve apparently changed, or been changed, by all that has happened.
Granted, I’ve cherry-picked examples to show how we seem not to be either kinder or gentler. I get it that we might still be angry at the virus and what it’s taken from us over these many months. Perhaps all those hours we spent doom scrolling on social media have left us even more aggrieved about, well, everything. Maybe, after so many months apart, we’ve forgotten how to conduct ourselves in social contexts, and any lessons may take time to sink in.
But if there is just one of those post-COVID lessons we could have learned amid all the death and despair, I hope it’s this one: Life is fleeting, and we need to slow down and live it more deliberately.