The Re-examining

A global pandemic teaches us what's important

An acquaintance asked the other day, “Are you going back inside the school this fall?” He was asking about my teaching at the college. Would it be in person this semester; would it be Zoom? Last year it was all online.

“Half and half ,” said.

“Eww, you’ll have to make that city commute again. Not happy about that, I can bet,” he said.

There’s a part of me that’s good with getting back into the classroom for a variety of reasons. But, yes, another part is dreading the commute, the expensive parking, and all the pandemic restrictions still in place for in-person teaching.

These are my own issues to consider. But they are nothing compared to so many others— health care workers, the restaurant industry, and all the crappy paying, no respect, no healthcare, no consideration for family jobs that no one wants to go back to.

The pandemic has led to one of the largest shifts in the working world in decades. Millions of Americans are making changes, or consdiering them. Just a few I’ve personally heard about or read about: a chef at a high-end restaurant becoming a mailman for the security and better hours, a nurse taking her real estate license test to leave the stress and health concerns behind and gain flexible hours for her family, and a woman in a lousy paying retail job at a clothing store deciding to open a dog grooming business out of her home. Other workers are simply dropping out of the job market altogether. For some, it just isn’t worth it anymore. This shift is proof that we must rethink the working world, industries have to rethink their old models for new ones. For one: do we really need all these restaurants? Can we even sustain them anymore?

And there is also the housing market.

The search for where to live has taken on a fresh, new point of view—where do I want to live, not where I have to live.

This is the beginning of a stunning shift in what the American society has been used to, even built on. It is an awakening. We are realizing that what we did pre-pandemic may have been awful, stressful, degrading, debilitating, but we carried on because that’s what you are supposed to do. That thinking is disappearing fast.

A recent New York Times opinion piece asked this question: What was it about our lives pre-pandemic that prevented us from seeing things that are so clear to us now? The answer is certainly complicated, but part of it has to be that the pandemic has brought death intimately close to many of us. And, Covid has made clear the distorted illusion that making sacrifices in our jobs and our home lives will always be worth it in the end. The end of what? The end of our lives?

Walt Whitman said, “Re-examine all that you have been told—dismiss that which insults your soul.”

It appears to have taken nearly five million deaths for us to truly hear Whitman’s words.

It was my turn to ask my acquaintance about his own life during the pandemic and what was next. “And you?” I wondered aloud. “Are you still working from home?”

“Oh, no,” he said, smiling. “Screw that and forget the office. I took early retirement. I’m done. I want to live my life.” Then he paused and looked away for a moment. “It’s just all too damn short.”

Old Walt was on to something.