We are coming up on one year since we first entered quarantine, and my mind spins at the incalculable loss of it all. I still remember hunkering down in my apartment with Alison Roman’s cookbook and a pantry full of beans at the ready. My mother FedEx-ed a gigantic box filled with bleach and Lysol wipes to our apartment, since those were two items that had completely sold out in New York. And my fiancé, Darien, who works as an ER doctor, went to work every single day in utter terror. We spent hours debating whether or not we could safely share a bed together. At the time, hospitals were running out of PPE, so his Instagram followers shipped him masks by the box. Another friend of ours who works in the beauty industry called every major corporation in the world and had them outfit Darien’s hospital with hand creams, soaps, and sanitizer. Sometimes, when he’d hear our neighbors in Brooklyn banging their pots and pans out the window, he would get emotional.
I remember seeing a tweet around this time that said something to the effect of, “Remember who you turned to when the whole world shut down.” The tweet referred to the sharp spike of public interest in television, films, art projects, and music during quarantine. More and more people appeared to be diving into new books, television shows, and hobbies for the first time. I always said I would envy anyone who came out of quarantine with a real skill, and then I watched a former colleague of mine quit his job at a major start-up, take up pottery classes, and move upstate to a small home, where he now keeps chickens and sells ceramics. I am pleased to report I do not, in fact, envy him, but I am incredibly happy for him!
His was not the only major life change I witnessed. Other friends of mine used their time at home to dive into their writing—at least three of them will be celebrating book deals this year as a result. Another friend had a baby, and was secretly (and guiltily) grateful for the world to stop so that she could do nothing but enjoy her newborn. My father dove deep into a Masters of Spirituality program, finally picking up on his dream of getting closer to God. And my mom (as you know if you read this newsletter regularly) sold the home my siblings and I grew up in, fulfilling her decades-long dream of reclaiming her life after motherhood.
I wrote a piece at the beginning of quarantine last year that was inspired by two essays in Nora Ephron’s final book before her death. In two brief lists, she took inventory of all the things she would miss after her death, and things she would not. I decided to take a page out of her book and created a list of the things I missed about “the before times” and what I did not. Some days I watch the news and think about those lists, and I wonder if we’ve learned anything at all. But then, I look around at the people in my life and realize that many of us have.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m saying we have to walk away from this moment having learned or “done” something. But ever since the pandemic started, I’ve been struck by the words of Arundhati Roy. (I included this same quote in a piece I wrote for Vogue.) “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next,” she wrote in April of 2020. “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Even as we wage another battle against new variants of the coronavirus, we are witnessing higher rates of vaccinations by the week, and enough supply is said to be available by the end of May for every American adult. Nothing is guaranteed—this pandemic has made that devastatingly clear—but there is reason to be optimistic that a finish line is in sight. It may not be the kind of finish line we all imagined, where everything opens up and goes completely back to “normal,” and masks become a thing of the past. But it might be something close enough to that fantasy.
If that is what will happen, I’m hoping that I will have emerged from the portal with a better sense of who I am, how I must be better, and what I want to do with the very precious time I have here. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this time in semi-isolation about how to be a better partner and friend, the importance of taking time to think things through, to value the silence and the uncomfortable qualities of waiting, and to find joy filling the empty spaces in a day with things I love to do (not the things I feel I should do).
So, in the spirit of portals and the late, great Nora Ephron, I present another list of The Things I Miss — And Do Not Miss — From Before the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Miss: Seeing coworkers at the office
Don’t Miss: Office politics
Miss: Long, glorious group dinners
Don’t Miss: Rescheduling until commitments fall off the calendar
Don’t Miss: Traveling for work
Miss: Fashion shows
Don’t Miss: “Street style”
Miss: Coming home after a long day
Don’t Miss: Not appreciating the value of a good night in
Miss: The intimacy of a face-to-face conversation
Don’t Miss: Being afraid of getting “too serious” or “too vulnerable” with new friends
Miss: Seeing my friends and family IRL
Don’t Miss: Neglecting them because I was “too busy”
Miss: The hope for change coming from the Democratic primaries
Absolutely Do Not Miss: Donald Trump’s Twitter
Miss: Birthday parties
Don’t Miss: Hangovers
Miss: Dressing up to see people
Don’t Miss: Constantly coveting what someone else is wearing
Miss: Taking a long, semi-aimless stroll on a Sunday
Don’t Miss: Not making time to just be with myself
Miss: Feeling “busy”
Don’t Miss: Thinking I didn’t “need” therapy
Miss: Life before the constant COVID-19 headlines
Don’t Miss: Not knowing better about so many systemic inequities
Miss: New York (like, so much)
Don’t Miss: Taking a taxi instead of the subway to avoid a long walk
Miss: What it feels like to be a part of the world
Don’t Miss: Taking a single day for granted
Miss: Looking forward to what the day has to bring
Don’t Miss: Thinking that hope is guaranteed