What I learned during the Pandemic

It's not what I expected

Here’s my June column for the @HollandSentinel, which just keeps winning awards:

What did I learn during the pandemic? I’m tempted to say, “Not much,” because that might get a laugh, and I have always enjoyed being the class clown. But the truth is, I learned quite a bit.

I learned for example that, as much as I like being around other people, I can get along just fine by myself. I can be happy and content without having anything at all on my calendar—no meetings to attend, no appointments to get ready for, no lunch dates for catching up with friends. I’m catching up with them now, and it turns out that waiting 15 months makes getting together more enjoyable.

A surprise bit of new knowledge for me is that I was able to go for 15 months without catching a cold or the flu. I’ve never felt healthier. As much as some people are ready to rip off their masks and throw them into the backyard fire pit, I’m thinking that I will keep wearing mine on airplanes and in other germy places. Why not? I’m proud of my teeth, but I like being healthy even more than I like showing off my toothy grin.

Speaking of germy places, I gave up my gym membership early in the pandemic and discovered that I like to walk, often for long distances, usually while listening to podcasts. My Google Fit watch is impressed by all my walking too and gives me encouraging vibrations at regular intervals.

Where I live (in Park Township) there are miles of walking and biking paths, and I have walked many of them and am determined to walk more of them. I pass blueberry farms and a park known as Riley Trails, I notice my neighbors’ (sometimes disturbing) yard signs, I say hi to other walkers and bikers, and I find that my cardiovascular fitness is every bit as good now as when I paid all that money for my gym membership. I will miss the comraderie of spinning class, and maybe those meetings with my personal trainer, who was very nice, but I’m enjoying my new routine.

Here’s something else I didn’t see coming: My wardrobe needs have changed. I had to get dressed up for something yesterday and had to search my closet to find dress pants and a sport coat. And when I put them on, I laughed out loud at how odd I looked. I decided that I didn’t want to look like that anymore. Instead, I put on some casual pants and a nice sweater. I may never wear a tie again, something I never expected to hear myself say. (I find myself wondering if Goodwill is going to get lots of “lightly worn” ties and sport coats. But who will wear them?)

At one point during the pandemic, I taught a six-week class via Zoom. I had a few dozen participants, and most kept their video and audio off during the presentations. At first this was disconcerting, since I have been in class situations where the give-and-take has been fun and gratifying for me, but after a couple of weeks I came to see that—for some students, at least—staying unseen and silent was a far better option. They learn better when no one is watching them and hoping that they’ll offer a comment or two in class. (Not everyone wants to be the class clown.) I listened to a few lectures myself during the pandemic and enjoyed the freedom to look out the window as I listened with the microphone and camera turned off.

And then, maybe most surprising of all, I learned self-care. I was raised to think that self-denial was the ideal state, the preferred way to live, the closest to godliness I was going to get in this life, but I learned just the opposite over the last 15 months. Pampering myself, or just being attentive to how I was feeling day by day, turned out to be an extraordinary luxury.

One of the simplest pleasures turned out to be spending time with my grandchildren. I got to know each of them better than I ever had before. And do you know something? Children can be demanding and irritating, yes, but they’re just about the most delightful part of life I can imagine. Who would have thought that potty training could be so much fun? I can’t remember the last time I laughed as much.

With the pandemic just about behind us, and with potty training just about complete, I may have to find other ways to enjoy myself.

Photo: How’s your Dutch? I didn’t stop here for a meal—it’s in Amsterdam—but I liked the straightforward signage. The Dutch have a well-deserved reputation for being blunt.