How Covid-19 Sparked New Conversations With Old Friends

We’ll get through these problems just like billions have before us — together

2020 was supposed to be my year.

I feel that way every year, but this one is my 50th. And I was sure, at the start, that if good things didn’t happen for me, that I could at least find good things to do. I could make my own happiness. On New Year’s Day, I even made a list of the things that I would no longer let bother me.

And because I’m easily bothered, it was a long list.

While one of my friends vowed to start a business and another to get in terrific physical shape, most of my plans centered around travel. I’d honor my pledge to drink no alcohol in January — a kind of offering to the gods — and I vowed to swim in the San Francisco Bay with sharks. I’d hit Las Vegas for a big poker session and spend at least a week backpacking a long trail in one of those big square states out West, far away from the hustle of my Chicago.

But surviving Covid-19 wasn’t on my list. Because the threat of a global pandemic did not, in my world, yet exist.

I had plans, you see. We all had plans.

And none of them have happened.

Ignorant of what was to come, my friends and I talked and texted plans based on a past that offered no foreshadowing. Back then, we could go where we wanted, eat where we wanted, and stand reasonably close to people. In the long-ago of earlier this year, stores used to have signs that read “No masks allowed.”

Things started well. In February, my wife and son joined me on a cruise to the Caribbean. We had a great time. Sure, there was talk of Covid-19, but it was more of an inconvenience then, one that only caused a couple of additional health questions before we boarded the ship.

But by March, it was all shut down. My son was sent home from school, my wife and I sent home from work. It felt strange.

As my friends and I catch up on the phone now, we agree that the most peculiar thing about dealing with a world during a pandemic is that life goes on. Bills still need to be paid. The grass still has to be cut.

Stranger still was that some of my friends weren’t sent home. My trucker friend, for example, had to keep on truckin’. He talked to me about taking as many precautions as he could while making deliveries to businesses taking no precautions at all. He still worries about infecting his family. He worries that the job that feeds them will make them sick.

Another worked in an office with several people who were pretty sure they were infected but didn’t tell management until the tests came back a week later. Hell, one of them was management.

As my friends and I catch up on the phone now, we agree that the most peculiar thing about dealing with a world during a pandemic is that life goes on. Bills still need to be paid. The grass still has to be cut. And people still stop living, too — many of them losing their lives to the ordinary and mundane, not a sickness no one had heard of last year.

One friend’s mother passed after a long illness. It’s been months, and we must’ve talked a half-dozen times about her estate, and his infuriating stepfather, and the difficulty of getting her ashes back to her family plot in another country.

I want to tell him that he’s overcomplicating things. Still, I know that deep down, he knows that when he’s resolved everything and stopped raging at bureaucracy and his sorry-ass stepfather and the lawyers, he’ll have nothing left to do but sit with his grief and the fact that his mother is gone. And how do you tell your friend that?

So I listen.

I’ve talked to other friends about how it doesn’t seem fair that something else should get heaped on top of everyday worries, the natural consequences of continuing to live: troubling test results, mandatory reading glasses, and medication regimens. How can everything else still be on the table as we deal with a worldwide pandemic?

But still, we try to keep our conversations light. One day I spoke with a friend about all of the things that will probably be different now, post-Covid. That cruise I took earlier this year with the buffet lines and condiment bars? Yeah, it’s probably gone forever.

I joked that in 20 years, my grandson will look at me and say, “Is it true that people used to have work potlucks? That sounds weird.”

Things aren’t always that funny, though. I recently had a discussion with a couple of my friends about our Covid-19 fears and how we all had some underlying condition or another. We talked about how falling ill would be tough, especially when we wouldn’t even have visitors.

Then one of us, newly single, pointed out that at least my wife might find me if I suddenly got sick at home — that at least I wasn’t dependent on the dog being able to call 911. We riffed on that for a while, laughing, trying not to let it weigh us down.

But it did.

When worries get too overwhelming, I remember something I read in Stoic philosophy that made me feel a little better: Everything we are dealing with today has been dealt with before. Getting old isn’t new. Sickness isn’t new. Death isn’t new. Even pandemics aren’t new. We’ll get through these problems, just like billions of people throughout history have gotten through them.

Together.

I write about masculinity, fatherhood, family, and relationships.

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