Note: Please don’t mistake any cheekiness in this post for glib or indifference. If you have yet to read productively about how to prevent or deal with COVID-19 (because you won’t do it here) learn what the people at the World Health Organization have to say. Let’s do our part and flatten the curve.
At one point in your life, you thought about what the apocalypse might look like. If you’re an optimist, you might even have envisioned what your life might look like after the end of the world. So much that you probably uttered a variation of this cool thought experiment out loud, embedded in a sigh, in the middle of a busy workweek:
If the world I know ended, and my commitments went away, what things could I do with all my free time?
Having a chance to start over because you survived the apocalypse is nothing more than that – a thought experiment. It will never happen. We have classes and jobs and friends and unfinished projects. We have mortgages and training plans and pathetic fantasy hockey teams that require our attention, frustration and continuity. Waking up in dystopia is but a funny dream – and I’ve never been this close.
I sit on a beige reclining chair, squinting beneath my sunglasses, watching my parents amble carelessly in a six feet-deep leisure pool. I pick up the Kissimmee, Florida newspaper. COVID-19 has chased even the prolific Florida Man from the front page (you can still find him on Google). Between paragraphs, I drink Coors Light and red Gatorade because that, for some reason, is what was nestled in our fridge between myriad dishes of mom’s cooking. Here, at the retirement community condo my parents rented on Airbnb, I have no responsibility.
I changed the date of my flight home - my supposed one-week vacation just tripled in prognosis. I have no reason to go back to crowded Toronto, where the virus is bound to run rampant. I’d rather stay inside our gated community’s pastel-coloured fences that shield us from dystopia. Beyond them, it’s chaos. Disney World just shut down. Grocery stores are empty. People are hoarding toilet paper like Taco Bell is having a sale. Even by our pool, one has to work hard to be oblivious to surrounding panic because, between our fence’s cracks, the virus tries to creep in. For that, I’m not sure when, or if, I want to leave this senior’s paradise.
I’ve made friends. One is Phil – he is well into his sixties, drinks warm beer and forgot to rip the price tag off the shorts he wore to dinner last night. Another is Terry – he golfs every morning, banters constantly with his wife Cheryl, and brags to me about how cheap is the gas at the Circle-K right now. We got to know each other for no other reason than we were all hanging by the pool, away from noise. On those reclining chairs, I am not a writer, a runner, a Montreal Canadiens fan or a guy who can name the first 150 Pokemon in order (yeah, weird flex). I am one of them, the retirees, each of my days a blank slate, asking myself at 7:00 every morning: What things could I do with all my free time?
I came across this passage by Ryan Holiday, who writes a newsletter called Daily Stoic:
Use your time wisely: don’t let the possible weeks or months of isolation be for nothing. You can’t control how long you’ll need to engage in social distancing, but you can control if you spend that time productively. The version of you who steps out of quarantine at some future date can be better than the version that entered it, if you try.
He's right. Perhaps this craziness gives way to a great new enterprise - Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was in quarantine, apparently. But, to do justice to our time away from normal life, we don’t have to set out to write an era defining story, and we don’t all have to be sipping on water-flavoured beer while listening to Conway Twittie with Terry and Phil.
Maybe a good goal is to find out what exactly are those things we tend to do when we have nothing to do at all. Maybe it’s reading a good book, writing a cool thing, quitting social media for a few days to see if our brains still work. Maybe this is the perfect time to discover something we like to do, as opposed to something we have to do.
Because no, the world is not ending. But the world we know is on hold, making way for a degree of liberty we’ve always kind of wondered about, for better or for worse.
So like Shakespeare, Terry, and Phil, let’s make the most of our new limitations, viral or otherwise, and allow them to make us stronger.