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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