‘In-Between Times’ feel heavier now

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, August 23, 2020 in The Gaston Gazette and five other newspapers throughout North and South Carolina.

I read last week where this guy stumbled upon an old spray bottle of hand sanitizer. He popped off the cap and sprayed some on to his hands. And in that moment, the smell immediately made him nostalgic for a “more naive, optimistic chapter of the pandemic”.

An old bottle of scented hand sanitizer – that’s all it took to instantly transport this guy back to a more hopeful time. All the way back to March and April of this year.

I can certainly identify with this guy. Those naive and optimistic days are long gone. I miss them too.

I get nostalgic for the days when I didn’t have to think much about germs and the places where they could be hanging out. Gas station pumps, grocery cart handles and credit card keypads just don’t look the same way they did just five months ago

I’ve never been what you’d classify as a germaphobe. But now these commonly-touched surfaces put me somewhat on edge. My sensitivity towards germs has been elevated more than ever due to this new world we live in. Everything looks just a little bit different these days.

I saw a video last week involving a bunch of kids playing at one of those indoor children’s playgrounds you find at the mall. These kids were just being kids, having a grand old time – the way it should be. They were climbing all over the giant turtle, walking over the bridge, crawling under the tunnel and scaling a bunch of other soft-climbing structures.

But this video wasn’t new. It was probably four or five years old. It didn’t matter. I still tensed up. Instead of seeing these little kids enjoying themselves in the play area, all I could think about was all the germs that were living on those soft play pieces, and how irresponsible it would be to let kids do this today.

It was in this moment that I realized that these new times we are living in are slowly starting to change the way we see the world. We are seeing life today through a COVID-like lens.

It wasn’t that long ago that seeing someone actually wearing a mask felt weird. Now it’s just the opposite. It’s jarring to see people not wearing a mask.

I like the way writer Lorianne DiSabato refers to anything pre-pandemic as the “Before Times”. I supposed there will be an “After Times”, but for now we are stuck in this indeterminate chapter I like to call the “In-Between Times”.

But as we flounder in these In-Between Times, we are slowly changing, morphing in ways that are not entirely clear at this point.

We’ve all heard the stories about how the generation that grew up in the Great Depression lived. They were the generation that learned how to “make do, or do without”.

They were self-reliant in so many ways. They made their own clothes, canned their own vegetables and saved every penny they ever earned. They were clearly shaped by their time.

It makes me wonder what the After Times will be like and how we will respond. Will we be more cautious, or will we just go right back to living like we did in those Before Times?

Something tells me this pandemic is going to have lasting effects on all of us, in one way or the other. What those effects are at this time is unclear at the moment. It’s that kind of uncertainty that makes these In-Between Times feel heavier now more than ever.

It’s easy to dwell in the hopelessness and neverending nature of the pandemic and what it could mean in the weeks and months ahead. Even though it’s comforting to dip your toe in the pool of nostalgia every now and again, you don’t want to wade in it for too long.

There’s that great line about the misleading nature of nostalgia from that Billy Joel song, “Keeping The Faith”. He tells us that “the good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

I’m hoping he’s right. In the meantime, I’m choosing faith – faith that things aren’t going to be like this forever. And just like Billy Joel suggests, I’m going to do my best to try to keep it. One chapter at a time.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at www.TheBenDungan.com.