Lately I’ve been hearing and reading references to life before Covid-19 as the “before time.” Bit melodramatic, I think. But also suitable in describing the time before this oddly unreal, but all too real life we are living right now. And I’ve been reading about what people miss about the time before their lives changed under stay at home orders. So, since the big things, the most important things, in my life are good (our safety and health, and the safety and health of my family and friends) what I miss from the “before time” are the small things.
Yeah, I miss small things. Because when you get right down to it, the small things are what make life vivid and endlessly interesting.
I miss sitting down to lunch with a good friend. Sipping a glass of wine, ordering something that I know will be yummy, and then settling into a long, comfortable, chatty conversation about books. Face to face. Utterly unhurried.
I miss hugs. Yep. Hugs. I know that anyone who knew me back in the day, before I was bitten by the hug bug, is picking themselves up off the floor now. Especially former colleagues, who would often say, “Oh, Sue doesn’t do hugs.” And they were right, I didn’t. Now I am a big hugger, back patter, arm squeezer. I’m a big hair touseler, especially of nieces, even now that they’re grown up with families of their own. I routinely pat people on the arm when we chat, reaching out to flap my hand at them. I’ve always been a hand flapper, but only recently have I flapped and then patted. Ha. I miss that.
I miss having tea with Mum and watching one of our shows. Or shopping with my sister Carolyn who lives the nearest to me of all my family. Face to face family time. Not big occasions. Just small ones. The good thing is that, since the pandemic, I’ve talked to my sister Connie on the phone more than I have in years and years. So that’s pretty cool.
I miss getting up early, getting my workout out of the way, and then leisurely showering, doing my hair and makeup, listening to CBC radio in the bathroom. Then choosing just the right outfit and heading out for a day, or maybe just an hour or two, of shopping. On my own. I usually have a list. But I feel no compunction about crossing things off to do another day because I’ve lingered too long in the bookstore. Or maybe popped into Nordstrom and had a chatty coffee with Liz. My time is my own. So I can linger or rush at will. And usually I choose linger. Thirty years in the classroom have made me chafe at rushing, at timekeeping of any sort.
I miss walking with my friends. When the walking is accompanied by much yakking, and sometimes mild husband bashing, all in good humour you understand. Then maybe decamping to a nearby coffee shop for more yakking. I walk on my own now. And sometimes with Hubby. But, to be honest, we need some time apart, and walking alone lets me listen to my audiobook. But I miss that weekly get together on the trail with my friends.
And let’s not forget how much I miss the feel of running my hand through a freshly-shorn haircut. Of getting up in the morning and actually recognizing myself in the mirror. My mop morphs at night into a white, misshapen, lumpy Creature from the Black Lagoon hairstyle. Ball caps with my morning tea are de rigueur now. But don’t get the wrong idea. I may miss haircuts, but I’m far from desperate enough (or stupid enough) to picket Parliament Hill with a sign saying so. Ha.
And most of all, I think, I miss being out in the world. Out in the work-a-day world when I am not working. That is the most luscious, most decadent thing about being retired. When I was first retired I used to revel in going anywhere in the middle of the day on a school day. So this is what the real world is like, I’d muse. I felt like a teenager skipping school. Or like when we were kids and we went on a rare field trip. Out of school on a school day. It makes you feel like whooping and jumping.
I love to be an observer as life flows around me. All on my own sitting on a bench in the Byward Market, sipping a latté. Watching the delivery trucks pull to the side of the street, a worker struggling to push a dolly loaded with boxes across the cobblestones. Men and women in suits carrying laptop bags rushing to a lunch meeting, or just a meeting. A young mother pushing a baby in a stroller, with a slightly older child running ahead. A school bus lumbering by on Sussex Drive. Heading to the National Gallery, maybe, with a bunch of kids on a field trip. I miss all that.
Like Haley Nahman says in her lovely, entertaining new newletter Maybe Baby, “I miss simply existing in the presence of other people.”
I miss watching girls apply makeup on the train before work, dabbing beige powder on their eyelids and pulling a mascara wand up and up until their lashes stand thick and tall. I always wish I could watch them unselfconsciously, that they’d know I wasn’t judging but admiring their easy, practiced movements. I miss simply existing in the presence of other people—watching them order their coffees, or write their to-do lists, or stop what they’re doing to comb their hair into a ponytail.Haley Nahman, Maybe Baby Issue no 7.
I miss travel. Not the big sights, but the small moments. Hubby and I sitting over a beer and a glass of wine somewhere, anywhere in the world. Discussing our day, savouring the sunset or the early evening view in a new and different place.
We’ve started doing that at home now. Sitting on our deck with our wine or beer while supper cooks. Listening to a particularly rowdy robin. Last night watching a beaver swim by in the river. The night before, Hubby shushed me because a mink stole across our front lawn. We sat very, very still watching until something spooked him, and he streaked away beyond our view. And we’ve begun a list of favourite places around the world where we’ve done the same. Savoured a glass of wine and talked of our day. In the before time. I’ll share our list with you in a post one day.
That phrase the “before time” sounds like a line from a sci fi novel, doesn’t it? A particularly bleak dystopian novel where the present life for the characters in the book has been utterly changed. Changed gradually over years when the inhabitants were not looking or were looking but not seeing, were distracted by wars… or upheaval… or whatever.
Like Huxley’s Brave New World, where the characters are deprived of life with any real meaning, are constantly amused, and busy, busy, busy so as to not have the leisure to think or question the system. Or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where the characters are mesmerized by video walls that fill their homes, where people’s attention spans are so short television dramas are ten minutes long, and where books are banned. Set on fire by firemen, actually. Hence the title which is the temperature at which books supposedly burn. Or books like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake where the world controlled by corrupt corporations is unrecognizable and yet eerily familiar, and very scary. I could go on, but I won’t.
The before time in these novels is always characterized by a life with the luxury of time to read, and muse, think, look at the moon. When people still controlled their own lives, valued intellect, kindness, talent, erudition. A time when life didn’t move so relentlessly fast or so cruelly. Or at least that’s always been my interpretation.
And although I can’t wait for life to return to normal, or at least a kind of normal where I can lunch with a friend, hug my mum, get my hair cut, and sit somewhere on my own or with Hubby and watch the world go by, I do wonder how we will feel when today becomes yesterday. Will we look back on these days of enforced leisure with nostalgia? Certainly not nostalgia for the disease that has physically and financially ravaged families and countries. But for the busy, busy, busy-ness of life that abated for a time. So much so that we were given time to look more closely at and appreciate the small things in our lives.
I have no idea what the answer to that question is, really. Waxing philosophical is not my strong suit. I do know that, while there are wonderful, small things about the “before time” that I cherish, and miss dreadfully, this time has its own small moments that have been wonderful too.
Any thoughts, my friends? You are so much better at waxing philosophical than I am. What do you miss?
P.S. I’ve recently subscribed to Haley Nahman’s new newsletter Maybe Baby. Despite the title, it’s not written for new mums, or for young women who hope to be a mum. Haley used to be the Features Director and a frequent writer for the blog Man Repeller. And I’ve always enjoyed her writing. You can subscribe to, and see all the installments of Maybe Baby here.