Remember the first week or 10 days of last March?
I know it feels like a century or two, but it was only a little more than a year ago that most of us were still enjoying the Before Times, unaware that we were just days away from the full force of a pandemic that would infect and kill millions, cripple countless businesses and turn people’s lives upside down … for more than a year.
But what if we had known?
What would we have done? What would we have not done?
I’ve been lucky, and have no qualms admitting that.
As I think about the days right before everything shut down, there’s no one I should have seen one more time because there wasn’t going to be a next time. There are no events in the days before lockdown that I would have skipped because I wound up getting infected.
I don’t have children, so I didn’t have to figure out on short notice how I would keep them safe and sane and somehow caught up on their schoolwork while also trying to manage my own affairs while stuck at home.
Instead, I should have prepared for … boredom.
Well, that and made sure I enjoyed the crap out of every single day until that point, but anyway … boredom.
Yes, I’m aware that for a lot of people, a little boredom would have been welcome over the past year. My problem is that boredom and job-searching don’t go together very well.
If I had been smarter, I would have made sure to read more, to write more, to play my baseball board game … anything to keep myself and my mind occupied when I wasn’t applying for jobs and didn’t have something planned.
However, I’ve spent far too much time checking my email — “Did anyone respond to my applications?” “How about now?” “Now?” “Why is no one responding?”
It’s not something I’d recommend.
But enough about me. I also enlisted a bunch of my blogging buddies (and one good podcasting friend) to answer this question, and with the obvious benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here’s what they had to say … starting with the person whose tweet got me thinking about the topic.
Many, many thanks to them, and if you want to share your thoughts, feel free to do so in the comments!
“I bought yeast on eBay!! Who DOES that?!”
Lisa (Positively Living Podcast)
I spend my life intentionally living with “no regerts,” but there are most certainly times when I might change things up if I had a time machine. While I find playing the “what if” game to be troublesome, I am intrigued by the prospect of looking at the majority of 2020 through a different lens. What if we knew what was ahead? What, if anything, would we change?
Thinking back a year ago to the news of a virus, the level of unknown was unreal. Social media doled out pieces of information that had us both freaked out and yet somehow convinced that this was yet another SARS or MERS and would be history before we knew it. Then something shifted. We realized it was quite serious and affected us all and we’d need to approach this one differently — a bit more aggressively containment-wise. From there the collective thought process seemed to be “Ok, contain it. It’ll take four to six weeks. And then we’ll get back to life.”
I’m not sure how we thought we could put a timeline like that on virus containment. I suspect it was wishful thinking combined with not having been down this road before. And that is the challenge of dealing with the unknown. We can only work from past experiences. To say it was difficult to find the right balance is an understatement. For some it was political, for some it was beyond threatening to their health and to those they love. For everyone it was so stressful.
I couldn’t maintain a consistent level with it. It was somewhere between “don’t eat Romaine” and “find my unabridged version of ‘The Stand’ and start taking notes” and at any given day that level of in-between was hard to pinpoint.
As with most huge plot twists in my life, my answer was to remain calm, cautious and a bit critical of all the information swirling. I am a questioner at heart and despite being known for my positive thinking, I keep a skeptic’s heart available for just such an occasion. It came out for this one until the world started closing down. Then ish got real fast and our family was rolling with it the best we could.
So much of what we went through during quarantine had minimal impact on me from a scheduling and functional standpoint (stress and worry was another matter entirely). My business was primarily online and I had recently been through a major financial challenge with my family. Creative income approaches, family haircuts, baking bread, making the most of the pantry, creating entertainment at home instead of going places were already daily life for us.
Having the kids home from school, having to stop any casual connections with friends, and having places that “never” close start to close were the signs that it was really really real. Having the store shelves bare made it extra real. (I bought yeast on eBay!! Who DOES that?!) But we had our internet up and running and I had been working through a well-stocked pantry and freezer for years as a habit. So we didn’t suffer.
We were also lucky enough that our jobs didn’t require us to be on the front line. We continued doing what we had been doing in some day-to-day respects, while cutting out some major events and shifting to all online activity. In an unexpected twist, extra time and Zoom-centric events allowed me to (finally) start a podcast, speak at online events, and mentor others. It was a string of unusual opportunities that I realize now might not have happened otherwise.
What would I have done differently? Honestly, not much. At first I thought I might have spent a little more time with friends, but that might have been a way to spread the virus further, so I have to be satisfied that I did what I could. I asked my family this same question and both children came up with nothing, which is oddly satisfying. My husband, however, had what I believe is the most accurate and most important answer of all — buy more toilet paper sooner and buy stock in Zoom.
Hindsight being what it is, I am grateful for the hardships that helped prepare me for this time and the love and friendships that were able to winter this time apart. I wouldn’t do anything differently then, but I will definitely ramp up the gratitude as this year progresses. As we figure out what’s next, I’ll keep choosing more love and appreciation for those around me and I won’t take for granted each opportunity I’m given to explore this world and live well.
“As a parent of triplet preemies, including a severely autistic son, we are pretty used to not doing what the rest of the world seemed to be doing. And that’s OK. But previous quarantines were done on our own terms. Now, we had to follow someone else’s recommendations to combat a virus that had taken hold of New York State, and our country, and spread like wildfire. A virus that seemed to be changing every day. Scary stuff!”
Alexia (My Life in Triplicate)
If I could have done anything different had I known the world was closing its doors, I would have jumped into my van, driven to Utica and visited my mom in assisted living. I would have hugged her. She would have told me to go home, but I would have sat with her to watch a few Food Network shows before finally giving in and shuffling off. Just a month before COVID-19 required us all to sit home, she celebrated her 90th. That was the last time I saw her in person.
I would then have swung by and picked up some Utica favorites — tomato pie, riggies, some Utica Club — and hunkered down.
As a parent of triplet preemies, including a severely autistic son, we are pretty used to not doing what the rest of the world seemed to be doing. And that’s OK. But previous quarantines were done on our own terms. Now, we had to follow someone else’s recommendations to combat a virus that had taken hold of New York State, and our country, and spread like wildfire. A virus that seemed to be changing every day. Scary stuff!
The week before the world shut down, on top of worrying about if I would ever land a job, we had BOLDLY chosen to move to a bigger house just around the corner. We were lucky. Who knows if we would have gotten into our new digs had we delayed the closing by a few days. My guess is we wouldn’t have. And we wouldn’t have survived the first few months together at home in the old house. At the old place we were literally bumping into each other …
Looking back, did I ever think we would have “made it” to celebrate this anniversary? No. On top of dealing with everything and managing learning from home for three teens, Theo’s meds quit and launched him into a crisis that manifested in bouts of insomnia. These are serious medications that just can’t be stopped and started. We knew we couldn’t get him treatment in-state. We were all exhausted. And I was on autopilot on so many levels. (Thankfully, we found a program in Pittsburgh that helped. And his stay was only three weeks, not four months long.)
So, here we are. I should have written a note a year ago that I could open today. It would say something like:
“Congratulations! COVID-19 Level 2 achieved!! Unfortunately, you don’t have enough years or qualifying conditions for a vaccine. Try again later.”
And hopefully later — becomes sooner. And that we continue to remain vigilant. And that we don’t ditch masks (I do dig them). And that we can all safely come together again.
“…while I like to think I would have visited my parents or gorged on movie nights and dining out, I doubt I would have. We see the past clearly. The future sidles up sneaky and sly.”
Jeff (30-Second Read)
The coronavirus that has upended our lives for a year-plus first edged into the news in late 2019. You may have read about it on an inside newspaper page or heard a report deep in a newscast.
The news hardly registered. Like earlier coronaviruses — SARS in 2002, MERS in 2012 — and even the different and deadlier Ebola, the newest killer threatened faceless unfortunates in far-off lands.
“Too bad for them,” I thought. Or something like it.
So did you. Admit it.
But what if we’d anticipated its impact? The lockdowns and isolation, the deaths and sickness? The shrinking of daily life as fear and public-health mandates flattened experience into a featureless, beige plain of arid sameness?
We’ll never know. Our minds considered and rejected. Or, more likely, never considered. Goodness, some of us never got past denial. Our brains, magnificent and mysterious, interfered.
So, while I like to think I would have visited my parents or gorged on movie nights and dining out, I doubt I would have. We see the past clearly. The future sidles up sneaky and sly.
“I approached the beginning of the pandemic with rose-colored glasses, and it honestly helped me cope with the whole process. If I had known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have navigated these circumstances as well as I did.”
Rosie (Rosie Culture)
If a week before the pandemic hit I knew that I wouldn’t see my family for six months, that I would get laid off from the company I had been working at for over four years and I would have to move away — I would have panicked. This is a time where I truly think ignorance was bliss for me. So much went wrong, but if I knew it was going to go wrong then I would have overcompensated, stressed myself out and made things worse.
I suppose if I knew I was going to get laid off, I could have started applying to more jobs in New Hampshire. The plan was always to move back to New Jersey; it just wasn’t supposed to be so soon. Getting laid off kickstarted that. If I had found a job in New Hampshire before I was laid off, I would have felt comfortable staying in the state longer. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because if I had stayed in New Hampshire throughout this pandemic, I never would have seen my friends and family at all in the safe and socially distanced ways I’ve been able to since I moved back to New Jersey.
I was given a severance when I was laid off that allowed me a cushion of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. It was very eye-opening to me, and I’m glad I wasn’t forced to jump into another role right away. If I had known the layoffs were coming, I wouldn’t have given myself any time off.
I approached the beginning of the pandemic with rose-colored glasses, and it honestly helped me cope with the whole process. If I had known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have navigated these circumstances as well as I did. There’s something to be said about less is more, and in this case having hope that things would get better soon, that everything happens for a reason, it kept me going. Knowing all the doom and gloom ahead of time would have forced me to shut down.
I am so so tired of pandemic life, so tired and saddened by the people who have been affected by COVID-19. I would have warned the world about it a week in advance if I could, but in general, I wouldn’t change how I approached this tumultuous time.
“When scientists in January 2020 said this one was serious, why didn’t I pack the basement with canned goods and toilet paper when I had the chance?
Because I think we treat scientists the same way we treated our parents when we were teenagers coming home from a party at 2 a.m. ‘Yes, Dad, I do know what time it is. 10:30 curfew? Gosh, I don’t remember you saying that.’”
Jackie (The Baseball Bloggess)
What if we had known the pandemic lockdown was coming? Technically, we did know. Following the 1918 influenza pandemic, experts said it would happen again and scientists have been warning us ever since.
Flu. Yellow fever. Cholera. More flu. Covid.
When scientists in January 2020 said this one was serious, why didn’t I pack the basement with canned goods and toilet paper when I had the chance?
Because I think we treat scientists the same way we treated our parents when we were teenagers coming home from a party at 2 a.m. “Yes, Dad, I do know what time it is. 10:30 curfew? Gosh, I don’t remember you saying that.”
Just like when we were 17 … we didn’t listen and we got grounded. I was grounded as a teen from time to time, but never for an entire year. We clearly did something really bad by not listening to the scientists.
I’ve been lucky — my yoga studio is struggling, but I’ve been able to keep it going online. It’s bare bones, but it’s alive. And, I’m alive. And, so is my husband. And, our cats. In a world where so many have endured extraordinary stress, suffering, and grief, I know I’m lucky.
But, here are a few things I regret not doing before last March kicked off Lockdown Year …
1. Shoulda gone to that last University of Virginia baseball game before the season was cancelled.
2. Shoulda gone out to dinner at that little Japanese restaurant we loved. It didn’t survive the pandemic and I will forever miss their perfectly grilled avocado, that heavenly cocktail with hibiscus syrup and the waiter who loved Elvis.
3. See that part about stocking up on canned goods and toilet paper.
4. Shoulda bought shares in Zoom.
If the Black Death, the bubonic plague which lingered for seven years — years! — in the 14th century and wiped out half of Europe’s population, is any indication, it’s time to restock the toilet paper.
“I’m a big hugger to begin with, but if I knew that the last time I ever hugged my grandmother would be November 2020, I would’ve at least made it last a few seconds longer.”
Renata (Buffalo Sauce Everywhere)
Cleaned out my desk (at least of perishable items)
I still remember our last day in the office like it was yesterday. My coworker and I were shocked when our manager told us that we might be working from home for six weeks.
For people who worked in an office every day, it sounded impossible to us that we might be working from home for that long. Working from home was an important experience for me, as it made me comfortable taking a new job that is completely remote. However, I would loved to have known I should clean out my desk before leaving the office.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have anything requiring refrigeration in my desk, but I did have some snacks that went stale sitting in my locked drawers. And since I got a new job this year, my coworker had to clean out my desk of all of my items. With some hindsight, I wish that I had cleaned my desk out before I left, or at least taken out any food items so that I could consume them before they went bad!
Created my at-home office sooner
If there’s one thing that this experience has taught me, it’s the importance of having an at-home office. For the first nine months working from home, I was working in my living room (and for the first seven months, I was working from my couch). I was working in the same space that I use to relax — talk about bad work/life balance!
Every time I sat on my couch, no matter what day or time of day, I felt guilty for not being productive because my work space and home space were the same. Not to mention how much I was hurting my back sitting on my couch for more than eight hours every day! In November, I finally got an office chair, and in January when I started my new job, I began working from my desk in my bedroom.
Now that I have some distance between my work space and my relaxation space, I’ve begun to heal from the hellish mindset that I created by working in my living room. Had I known that I would truly be working from home indefinitely and the toll that working from my living room would have on my mental state, I would’ve made that change far sooner.
Prioritized our house hunt
My fiancé Dan and I currently live with my parents, and we feel like it’s time for us to start looking for our own place. We’ve been passively looking for quite some time, but had I known that the pandemic was about to hit, we would’ve looked more actively.
It is now an absolute seller’s market near us, with houses being listed far above their value, houses flying off the market within two or three days, people outbidding each other on already-elevated prices and people foregoing inspection. In this climate, house-hunting isn’t ideal, and who knows when this seller’s market will end? I might’ve taken the house hunt more seriously the year before the pandemic had I known that the housing market was about to become so rough for so long.
Stockpiled blog posts
Last year, there was a bout of six months that I posted six times a month instead of four. I was excited to have the time and creative energy to be able to write not only weekly for my blog, but post on a second day every other week. I just had so many posts and I needed to share them!
By June, the weight of the world was really hanging heavy (and, of course, we were hardly leaving the house), making it difficult to write and to feel inspired. I stopped posting more than once per week, promising that I would get back to it eventually. Now, however, in March 2021, I still haven’t had the energy to do so. Part of me wishes that I had saved those posts so that I could’ve posted them while spending uninspired months indoors. Or, at the very least, I wish that I had done more writing while we were doing things.
Recently, I’ve been finding more solace in video games, so I really haven’t had time or motivation to write. I’m trying to save the world from the origami king, OK!? I don’t have time for blog-writing!
I think that everyone might have this on their list, but I would’ve loved to have traveled more before everything shut down. Dan and I try to take one big trip per year and hadn’t even booked our 2020 trip yet before the shutdown. My mom and I had a spa weekend planned that we cancelled. My friends and I had a trip to Disney planned that got pushed to later this year (and, as any regular at my blog can attest, I really love Disney). Now, who knows when we’ll be able to fly on a plane again or enter a spa without wearing a mask? Had I known that everything was about to change, I would’ve tried to go on more trips in the months before everything shut down.
Hugged my grandparents more
Not to end on a sad note, but I would’ve definitely tried to spend more time with my grandmother if I had known that COVID was going to have such a huge impact and take her from us. My two living grandparents are now fully vaccinated, thank goodness, but I’ve also missed so much time with them since the pandemic started.
Had I known that I was about to spend several months not seeing my grandparents (and lose one), I would’ve given out so many more hugs! I’m a big hugger to begin with, but if I knew that the last time I ever hugged my grandmother would be November 2020, I would’ve at least made it last a few seconds longer. We all want more time with those we love, and unfortunately that’s one thing we’re really missing right now.
“Like the old Billy Joel song says, you’ve gotta get it right the first time. You can’t afford to let it pass. But I didn’t know how long this first time would last.”
Lindsay (Live, parent, teach, repeat)
So this time last year, I was enjoying my first week of lockdown. Enjoying, because I had finished work at my secondary school a week earlier than timetabled and the weather was unexpectedly glorious in England. And, in my naivety, I thought I’d spend my extra seven days pottering around the house and venturing into the garden if the unseasonable warmth continued. I believed the rumours that we’d have an additional week after the school holidays, then life would return to normal. But it didn’t.
However, unlike this latest lockdown, we were left dangling. (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson announced firmly in January 2021 that schools would not reopen until March 8. Immediately, with that short sentence, my life was planned out for the next eight weeks. It wasn’t in March 2020. Every few weeks, we had to wait to be told if schools were reopening and in the absence of a definite date, I didn’t have a deadline. And without that deadline, I wasted time.
Like the old Billy Joel song says, you’ve gotta get it right the first time. You can’t afford to let it pass. But I didn’t know how long this first time would last.
I wrote about enjoying the fact that time slowed down in Silver Linings. But if there was one thing I wish I had known on March 23, 2020, it was to know how much time I had, then I would have spent it more wisely.
Don’t get me wrong; I did achieve things. I blogged more. I painted a Forth Road Bridge-sized fence. I enjoyed leisurely walks with the dog. But, as time slowed down, so did I, and I practically came to a standing halt!
Playing Candy Crush when I could have been trying out a new recipe. Dozing on the sofa when I could have read a new book. Flicking through Facebook when I could have been learning a new language. Back on 23 March, I wish I had written a list and given myself a forfeit for everything which remained unticked. I wished the procrastinator in me had been put into its own lockdown and replaced with a motivator.
Forfeits such as walking the dog on a normal lead; he pulls harder than an express train, so the thought of returning with a dislocated shoulder would have stirred me into productivity. Forfeits such as entering one of my teenage sons’ bedroom to clean it, managing to re-emerge without having inhaled air through my nostrils would have reminded me that I could be doing more important tasks. Forfeits such as putting something in the loft; my husband would probably slam the hatch shut as soon as he saw my little feet disappear and refuse to open it again until I’d sorted through all the “things the kids will absolutely want to be given back on their 18th birthday.” That would definitely have motivated me into making the most of this enforced but much-welcomed time off work.
So, on 23 March 2020, I wished Boris’ live televised address to the nation had been a little different.
“Right, so, err, Lindsay. I am hereby telling you, err no, instructing you, that you will indeed be staying home for a considerable amount of time, err in fact, until Sept. 1, so with this in mind, I am forewarning you that you must not, I repeat, you must not take advantage of those unlimited lives on Candy Crush. You must be proactive. You must stay home, protect the NHS, save lives and work your bloody way through your to-do list.”
Maybe then I would have done so much more. Maybe then I would have gotten it right the first time.
“If I’d have known what was coming, I would have tried to do as much living in the moment as possible, filled with hugs and handshakes and carefree interactions with the people who matter most. I think I’d push for each of us to get a haircut, too.”
Savannah (Sunshine With Savannah)
With a little notice, I think I would have packed my pre-COVID time with a little hustle and heart.
Around this time last year, my husband and I were looking at homes (about to go under contract), budgeting our money tightly and working extra jobs to meet our savings goals. Although I wouldn’t change a single thing about the home-buying and saving process, I know I would want to rev up the experiences and savor them while I could.
In an alternate reality where money was no object, I would have zipped off to an all-inclusive resort with my loved ones. We would’ve counted down the minutes to quarantine with unlimited food and drink at our disposal, on gorgeous sandy beaches and poolside.
More realistically, I would have urged my husband to cash in his vacation time, and we would hit the road to see our loved ones in Colorado. First, to Denver. With some strategic planning, we’d squeeze in time with our family and friends. In an ideal world, there’d be a Rockies game, time at a brewery or two, delicious food at a restaurant (sans masks) and a trip to Top Golf or a batting cage or bowling — literally any leisure activity that I love but can’t claim any talent to.
Next, we’d head west to Gunnison. In addition to more family time — including some kind of jarts or cornhole tournament — there’d be stops at all my hometown favorites: half-and-half salad from Mario’s, coffee from Mochas, an alpine mule from Alpine Brewery. I wouldn’t mind dancing (even alone) on the Timber’s dance floor, sipping a cheap drink and bumping into everyone I grew up with. On our way home, we’d stop in Grand Junction to savor some time with my parents, free to go out and about and leave the house.
The last few days would be spent around Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley, filling our remaining hours with as many experiences as possible. Hot springs soaks at Glenwood Hot Springs and Iron Mountain, day trips to Aspen, leisurely strolls downtown, drinks with buddies at Ball or Casey Brewing, hiking on trails without worrying how crowded it is. We would go to a Mexican restaurant and savor the chips and salsa experience.
If I’d have known what was coming, I would have tried to do as much living in the moment as possible, filled with hugs and handshakes and carefree interactions with the people who matter most. I think I’d push for each of us to get a haircut, too.