How will COVID-19 Change You?

What markers will the COVID-19 crisis leave on society?

Much like September 11th and the Financial Crisis of 2008, behavioral experts believe COVID-19 will leave a psychological or emotional marker. And those markers will predict how we will act for weeks, years, decades, or in some cases, the rest of our lives.

My dad, now 92-years old, still displays instincts rooted in him during the Great Depression. No matter how successful he may be at any point in his life, he remains cautious with money, fiercely debt-averse, and tends to hold onto random items he might need one day.

Having nothing and lived firsthand the feeling the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds – the most significant shared event in his lifetime – formed how his mind processed his decisions to this day.

My dad once bought a belt, absent a buckle for $4.

Holding the brown strip up to him, I asked him why he would spend money on something he could not use.

“It is a quality piece of material,” he said. “I’m sure I have an old buckle on a worn-out belt around here I can figure out how to put on it.”

His delivery was as flat as if he was explaining to me which horizon the sun would rise the next morning.

Decades of comfort will never change my dad’s mindset of what the raw feeling of having nothing is.

So with COVID-19 impacting our society, what markers will become imbedded into our collective and individual psyche going forward?

To this day, September 11th always revisits our minds when boarding a plane or see an unattended bag beneath a bench. And the following the Financial Crisis of 2008, over the top displays of wealth were no longer viewed with admiration, but rather as insensitive out of touch.

So what will COVID-19 leave behind – or more accurately – accompany us into the future?

Experts say it takes 2-weeks of behavior to form hold in our minds. So what will our new patterns of social distancing, working remote, or learning to not run to the store every day do to us? Will we ever feel the same about shaking hands with a stranger or offering a hug to someone we barely know in pain? Will we ever feel comfortable sitting in a seat next to a stranger at the movie theater or in the tightly clustered seats of an airplane?

Some emotional markers will fade. Others, like my dad’s childhood, remain close to the surface, hiding around the corner whenever he makes a decision. The question is, which ones will we take forward, and for how long?

There are a few changes I hope people take away from this COVID-19 crisis. I see more people outside, walking, and children playing in yards. I also see people checking in on family and friends. And if anything, we are learning to slow down a bit, less obsessed with consumption and self-aggrandizing behavior on social media.

But as for me buying belts without buckles, I’ll keep you posted.

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COVID-19 Infects Each Of Us

Never has a day felt so much like a week – nor a week so much like a month.

In a world of clichés, “uncharted waters” appropriately rises to the churning dialogue.

“I don’t even know what day of the week it is,” said a friend. “I’ve lost all sense of time.”

My friend is not alone. I found my daily pillbox serving as my default calendar, helping me correctly identify the day of the week.

In little more than a week, the COVID-19 virus has infected the lives, minds, and psyche like little else in our collective living history. And while the debate rages on about to the urgency of the public health threat, there is also an expanding inherent fear of the unknown and of what tomorrow will bring. And then, unfortunately, there are the deaths, further cementing a foundation for which to support compounding worries.

Last week our biggest problem was where to buy toilet paper. Today, last week seems like a month ago, a time when our reference point for pain was a temporarily empty shelf in a grocery store or debating whether to book a flight for an upcoming vacation.

I hate writing this column. I’m frustrated, hurting for others, and unsure exactly what will come next. Uncertainty is naturally unsettling.

But on the other hand, I am confident in my family, friends, neighbors, and community. Never have I felt so much love or so much urgency to help others. I want to use whatever skills and talent God placed in me to help others through this window.

So let me focus on what I do know and of what I am certain.

My family loves me, and I love them. I control my reactions to what happens to me and those around me. And I have faith the goodness of people will rise to the top when needed. And finally, my faith – the bedrock of who and what I am: a servant to God and others.

And as for the world around me, know I have faith in you and your natural goodness. While we collectively look for that much-needed break in the waves, hope to catch a glimpse of an approaching shoreline, let’s make sure we take care of each other. Your actions can be in terms of volunteering, donating goods and services, or sharing a skill you might have with someone in need. If this formula sounds familiar, it is  – the definition of community.

Anyone reading these words knows what it is like to be knocked down and struggle back up to our feet. Yes, we are dusted and bruised, but we find a way to stand up again. But in times as challenging as these, what we’ve learned is to have faith in a stranger’s hand reaching down to help us regain our balance when we need it most.

Let’s be there for each other, ready to extend a helping or needed hand whenever the opportunity arrives around us.

God bless all.

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Coronavirus Shopping Lists Revealing

Saturday morning, I got up early and walked into an episode from the Twilight Zone.

Parking my truck, I paused to capture a picture of the sunrise with my phone. In the distance, an orange sliver peeked over the gulf’s horizon, clouds softening the image. A pair of brown pelicans drifted carefree across the sky, letting only the next thermal determine their future.

So far, so good, I thought to myself.

As I approached the building, the double-glass doors opened before me, washing away the illusion of normalcy like green pollen in a spring rainstorm.

Going to a grocery store during peak times is not all that scary. I’ve survived a quick run for a box of cornbread mix on Thanksgiving morning.

Today, I immediately recognized, would be curiously different.

With lines stretching far into the aisles as when a hurricane is headed our way, people strung across the store. But something was different in the air – an urgency and uneasy sense of the unknown.

If I were a shark, I am sure I’d say I was picking up on the smell of fear.

I understand the dangers of the coronavirus. My 92-year old dad is under lockdown in a retirement home, and my daughter manages a low immunity system due to her Crone’s Disease. I respect the medical challenges this unique strain represents and my personal responsibility.

But what is the deal with everyone buying toilet paper? Nowhere in news reports does is recommend people get as much toilet paper as possible. Did I miss something?

Turing my cart around near the empty shelves where eggs usually roost, I see the store manager moving items. His eyes are heavy, his body tired.

“Wow,” I say. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to say,” he says. “People are shopping like they are to going to be sequestered for a year.”

We both force a smile, each knowing all we can do is watch the behavior play itself out.

I walk the store, making notes of not only what shelves are empty, but conversely, those left relatively untouched.

Water. Individual and gallons inventory pretty much drained. Blue Bell ice cream appears to be getting drawn down. Pinto beans so cleaned out you have to read the label on the shelf to know what is missing.

On the other hand, fresh vegetable and fruit appear normal, bread shelves are functional, and for some reason, beer suppliers are loading the stores up, inventory stacked as far as you can see in front of plump coolers.

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I’m not sure what this says about us our society. While most of us are all well-adjusted adults, I can’t help but feel our grocery shopping selections are most telling. Peeking into some else’s cart is always a highly-practiced sport at the grocery store, but this is the same concept on steroids.

I recognized exhaustion on the face of the woman checking my groceries.

I’m pretty sure all she wants is a nap.

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Spring Break An American Original

One day historians will look back at America and point to 3 significant cultural contributions to the world: hot dogs, apple pie, and spring break.

Throughout my lifetime, the once quiet week-long break in the school calendar somehow morphed itself into a marketing and travel juggernaut. Where once the window equated to sleeping in for a few days, today’s culture bakes in the expectation of exotic travel or some equally exciting use of the time saving the planet.

I grew up in a home where the biggest room in the house was the garage. Spring break meant sleeping in and not doing homework each night. We didn’t even know anyone who would take a trip over spring break outside that of a distant relative’s funeral.

In our neighborhood, spring brought crawdads, tadpoles, and Little League baseball sign-ups. The first two were free; the second might require convincing across the dinner table. Back then, parents did not intentionally build activities into every open window their kids might have – be it a weekend, after school, or even in the mornings. We were just kids making up life each day, letting adventure lead us where it may.

Then came MTV, changing America and the world’s perception of spring break forever. The televised event aptly titled MTV’s Spring Break, poured hours of festival programming into living rooms featuring lots of music and equally less clothing. Once somewhat contained to Daytona Beach, the fever for more events from which to make money quickly spread. And with the fever came the change to America’s psyche that the once quiet window of time would now demand the days to be filled with plans, excitement, or adventure.

Asking another person what they did over spring break went from polite conversation to a competitive challenge – as if two Sumo wrestlers stood facing each other fighting for the top social status.

Ironically, today I live on an island where spring break is an essential part of the annual economic model. Hotels fill up, restaurants stop taking reservations, and you can pretty much successfully play the license plate game in minutes.

Spring break is every bit as much a part of the national annual calendar now as the week of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today, parents and tourism groups are quick to defend against any changes to the schedules. And interestingly, many teachers are challenged or scorned should they consider issuing homework to be completed over the week-long window.

In a strange twist, the spring break mentality influences even those without kids in school. So embedded is this feeling that today I feel like I am opting out or missing out on some special opportunity by not having plans during a spring break – years after our kids became adults.

I no longer wade knee-deep in creeks armed with an empty coffee can and my bare hands. But if I did, I’m willing to bet there is someone willing to pay for such the eco-friendly experience of hunting tadpoles and crawdads for spring break.

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When Halfway Equals Making Progress

My daughter called for advice on how to complete paperwork for her new job.

“What percentage do you think I should put away into the 401K past the match?”

She’s twenty-five and single. But to me, she still bangs around in my heart as a 10-year old princess asking me to save her from imaginary dragons. But today she’s a young adult with enough instinct to know she should never pass up an opportunity to prepare for her future.

I suggest an aggressive rate; my wife suggested a more balanced number. In the end, what matters is our daughter understands the need to be prepared for her future – much like and elevator I rode last week.

Being prepared is a lesson we generally learn the hard way. From children’s fables – the grasshopper and the ant – to a financial advisor reviewing your retirement plan, we should always be preparing for the next step. Both illustrate you can’t make up for lost time. Work must go in long in advance if you ever wish to arrive at a destination with any level of confidence.

Which brings me back to a lesson I learned from an elevator.

Stepping into the brass-trimmed cabin, my hands held a scone in one hand and hot tea in the other. I’d forgotten the elevator required a keycard for access to rooms above the third level. My room was, unfortunately, on the thirteenth floor. Hands full, I mentally fumbled what to do next.

And then the elevator began moving.

Figuring some divine elevator karma stepped in and would help get to my floor, I decided not to put my drink on the floor and go searching through my pockets for my keycard. Instead, I figured I would go along for the unprompted ride and see where I would end up.

Honestly, I assumed someone above was calling the elevator up to their floor. I figured the elevator would rise, stop at a specific level, and guests climb aboard would push button. From that point, I just thought I could then press my floor’s button and be on my way.

But that did not happen. Instead, I watched the red numbers count off until the 7th floor, where the elevator paused. The doors did not open; people did not get on and whisk me away. I was in the same situation – only now on the 7th floor.

And then I figured it out – the elevator defaulted to the 7th floor, roughly half-way up the tower. Doing this allowed the elevator to reach a requesting party on any level in about the same travel time. And doing so would drive better customer satisfaction. And yes, according to what I read afterward, fancy algorithms drive this piece of science.

My daughter knows she needs to be prepared – much like the elevator. She also knows sitting on the ground floor and not preparing for what is next will make her hopes of reaching her goals more difficult.

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Next/Next Process Critical To Success

Life is not always about what happens next, but rather what happens next/next.

Good and bad things happen to all of us. A decision at work does not go our way, or maybe a doctor delivers news about a life-changing medical condition. On the other hand, perhaps we are receiving end of an aunt leaving a few thousand dollars following her passing, or you finally earn the advanced degree years in the making.

Life is not always in what happens, but more so in the ones immediately following.

A couple of years ago, our daughter discovered herself diagnosed with a chronic health condition altering the course of her life. After doctors warned the long hours and high levels of stress baked into her career field would be the wrong prescription for successfully managing her health, she sat deflated.

Long years of dreaming evaporated before her eyes – and she took it hard.

But what happened next/next is where she truly succeeded. After a good cry to three, she created a dedicated social media thread, sharing what she was learning about her condition as well as her personal journey. Photos of her in hospital beds or medical supplies spread out across a table began to connect with others of her situation. A community of individuals thirsty to learn – not pity each other – sprang up from social media feeds. And as she helped others, followers paid forward with suggestions and tips they’d gleaned. Without knowing it, our daughter discovered the same media skills she was developing for her targeted career allowed her to see a higher purpose to her condition while helping others.

And as a parent, I could not be more proud.

But she is not alone. Bad things happen all the time. But often, the real damage occurs after one lets the impact derail the one inside of them. No event or action should be allowed to become the ending result rather than another bump along the road to tomorrow. The next/next step we take is most times the most significant predictor of whether we allow the moment to define us or become only another dent in our armor.

My mother died when I was young. I loved her with all my heart. But her passing, as close to my emotional center as it could be, was not an excuse to negatively impact my long-term direction in life. What would happen next/next, I figured out, would determine my longer-term outcome. In such a journey, days become months, months become years, and years become decades until you finally create a lifetime of experiences. My mother did not expect, nor would she wished, for my life to end the day hers did. Instead, she would have wanted me to rise and take her spirit forward into the world and become the best me I could create.

Next/next is a process you adopt and repeat your entire life. And having the courage to do so will make all the difference in life.

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My Generation Is Guilty As Charged

My son blames my wife and me for ruining his youth.

Years ago while our son was away at college, he once complained about all the rules and regulations required to hold even a small party or event on a modern campus.

“Apparently, your generation had too much fun and messed it up for the rest of us,” he said.

Well, he might have a point – we did have a great time.

His words dropped by for a visit while I was at a business lunch earlier this week. Among the four of us, three of us came of age in the last century. The other guest, however, is only a few years out of college.

A co-worker was talking about how she would and friends would cook themselves while trying to get the perfect tan during the summers.

“We’d cover ourselves in oil mixed with iodine,” she said. “We’ve even laid on tinfoil to reflect the light back up on us.”

The face of the youngest member at our lunch table went slack, hoping my friend was joking.

Another guest spoke up.

“Yes, we even held up cardboard trays covered in aluminum foil to focus the sun on our faces.”

I think our youngest guest began to realize the rest of her table was from a much different world, one not only from the last century but one where people lived with a different attitude towards life.

Finally, the youngest guest spoke up, bring the rest of us back into the 21st century.

“I try never to go into the sun with our at least 100 SPF,” she said.

The rest of us know she is right – each us probably harboring sun damage somewhere on our bodies. But at the time, we were young, invincible, and our tomorrows were more conceptual than anchored in reality.

Our days were seasoned with all-night road trips without cell phones or going out with friends long after what is now our regular bedtimes. And as for all we knew, our tomorrows were unlimited would only get better.

Like probably every generation at their time, we were determined to out-celebrate, out-music, and out-define our time in the spotlight. And as happens when you keep raising the stakes, the returning to reality can have its downsides.

Today I see the scars of years of the unprotected sun on my skin, I’m now seriously considering hearing aids, and I wish I’d understood the concept of compounding interest when I was twenty-three.

But then again, there is the other side of the coin. Our generation bought tickets to see the best bands for $15 and thought cholesterol was a food additive. We thought hair could always be a bit taller, the music louder, and shoulder pads might even look good inside a t-shirt.

While we were wrong about the last item, we had our fun. And we did it big.

And while my generation sincerely wishes the newer generations their good times and self-discovering experiences, we are – as my son accuses us – guilty as charged.

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Doing Right Takes Effort On Our Part

We like to believe we will always do the right thing – that is, until we don’t.

Last week a figure leaned against a wall to my right while walking into a local restaurant. Even without a direct glance, I could tell the man was bordering between blending into the stucco wall and hoping to get someone’s attention. He was in need but unable to ask.

Helping others is easy to sign up for, harder to do without fail. Life distracts us, tricks us into thinking whatever we are doing is more important. Human nature swings both ways.

At the moment, I was scanning an email on my phone, walking towards the restaurant’s glass doors. But inside of me, I knew I was missing an opportunity. But I was, so insisted the selfish voice inside of me, in a hurry.

Inside the restaurant, the voice worked to reaffirm my decision. But the inaction stubbornly hung over me like the smell of the chicken fajitas on the crackling in the restaurant’s kitchen.

The door closed behind me, and my world moved forward – that is, until I heard the sound of metal scraping and banging from aluminum doors behind me. Turning around, I saw a younger man helping an older couple maneuver a heavy wheelchair through the narrow opening.

“Here you go,” he said. “Let me help you.”

Neither knew each other.

His sun-kissed hair danced like angry ocean waves. Silver bracelets draped from his muscled and colorfully inked arms. His energetic voice seemingly illuminated the room an extra 10 percent.

Once in the door, the older couple settled at a wooden table, and the younger man stepped into line to order his meal with his friend.

I sat down, thinking about how fortunate the world is when people are tuned in to the opportunities of helping others. I was also licking my self-inflicted wounds from earlier – no matter how hard the little voice inside tried to justify my selfish response. I’d whiffed on two opportunities.

Minutes later, the young man’s order was called, and a plate overflowing with food appeared. Getting up, he turned and stepped outside, returning with the man behind from the shadow. Bundled in a heavy coat and his most valuable possessions stored in a stained backpack, he looked down at the food. The younger man invited the shadow man to sit down and eat.

The conversation didn’t make it to me, but I did see the other man appeared uncomfortable to sit down and eat, among others. The younger man, understanding, grabbed an employee, and packaged the food to go. He then placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, made meaningful eye contact, and shared a few words of encouragement.

We all say we will do the right thing when presented with the opportunity to help others. But we don’t. I will always remember the day the universe decided to powerfully remind me there is a vast gap between signing up and acting with heart.

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De-Consumption Drives New Questions

Lately, I am motivated more and more by less and less in every aspect of my life. Eating less food, buying fewer items, and worrying about things I cannot change.

I call this a life de-consumption.

I’ll admit, coming of age in the last century, the society raised us to consider consumption our default function – buy, use, dispose. Repeat often as possible. The newer, the cooler. the bigger, the better. And the flashy the more likely to project success and happiness.

But as I’ve grown older and put a few decades behind me, I realized this formula is as accurately representative as the bowl of cereal in an advertising photo. The lasting satisfaction from grabbing consumption trophies is no more real than the glue in the container holding each breakfast flake in the perfect photographic position.

I’ve also learned over time the relationship between the number of possessions and happiness if false. In increasingly wonder if the volume of consumption isn’t merely and reflection of filling an aching hole in someone’s inner self.

The happiest people I’ve met in the world comparatively have the least in terms of possessions.

I once in a novel, the writer wrote something along the lines of “growing up we never knew we were poor until we were old enough to know we were poor.” I guess, to a certain extent, we can all relate to the day consumption fever takes hold. No matter your station in life, you one day discover worlds out there – both higher and lower than yours. And from all outward indicators, the former is where all the trappings of success and happiness are rooted.

Unwinding this cultural programming is difficult. I’ll admit the fever infected me coming of age later decades of the last century: bigger houses, more clothes in closets, the need for 3 or 4 slot garages.

Today I find myself actively unwinding this ingrained expectation. No longer do I feel the need to consume without a genuine need. Replacing the mailbox house becomes a challenge of whether a different coating of paint does the job. Big and small, these little decisions are taking over, impacting what comes and goes under my roof and life.

Buy a new shirt? Take two to the Salvation Army. New shoes? Same. Tip generously, flood the world with kind words and always be on the watch to help someone else.

De-consumption is about turning an existing formula on its head and asking what do you need? What can you do – or do without – to make the lives of someone else better? How many coffee mugs does someone need?

Today I spotted a colorful doormat for sale. The colors teased, encourage me to reach down and carry it home. But then my de-consumption kicked in asking me if I already had one at home, and could it be cleaned up or possibly redecorated?

The colorful doormat remains for sale. Me? I’m learning to de-consume and happier because of it.

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Bride And Groom Wear Age Proudly

The new bride is glowing from the inside; the groom so proud he can hardly get the words out fast enough.

“We’ve been married exactly 2 hours,” he said. “My first and her last.”

True love does not arrive on a schedule convenient exclusively to the young.

I’m standing outside a hotel, valets moving back and forth like leaves swirling winter breeze.

“We both last saw each other in high school,” he said. “If you flipped the pages of the yearbook, there we were together.”

She tells me how they were good friends years ago before they went their separate ways – she created a life and family one world, and he went off to Europe and other faraway places. They reconnected recently.

They are heading out for their first dinner as husband and wife. There is no flowing white wedding gown or stuffy black tux in front of me. On the contrary, they are entering the world this night as man and wife dressed with confidence gained experiencing life.

My wife and I share hugs with them and head inside the hotel, leaving the newlyweds to their night. I can’t help but feel as if all is right in the universe this night and I’ve seen something special.

Love is strange. Hard to define, difficult to accurately describe, but when you see the real thing, you know it instantly.

“Youth is wasted on the young,” so goes a saying handed down from one generation to the next. And as each of us gains another year on the calendar, we tend to agree more. “If we only knew then was we knew now,” we say to ourselves.

Love is one of those areas, too.

The other day I found myself apologizing to my wife for my immaturity early in our relationship. And as much as I realize I am not the only husband wearing a badge for selfish behavior, that does not relieve me of self-aware guilt I carry for my actions.

“Hey, you’re here now,” she says. “And we’re here now.”

When young, you feel as is if love is something magical, bursting into fire and forever burning in hearts. But the truth is, as intense are the fires of young passion, so are dangers of inexperience in the hands of youth. Many of us do not have the needed toolset to manage and navigate the fierce heat of passion. Too often, we find our immaturity dousing the embers with self-inflicted mistakes, sucking out the oxygen, a critical ingredient for the fire to continue.

Love is like a campfire. A good one burns long and healthy, putting off the needed energy to cook a nourishing meal, providing warmth to cut the chill on a cold night, and offering an added layer security from threats or predators.

As for the newlyweds outside the hotel, I’m betting they are in a better position to navigate the unpredictable road of love. As I said, when you see the real thing, you know it.

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