What I Miss from the Before Time.

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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.

Mum hugging her favourite banker at Royal Bank in the Brookside Mall in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Mum hugging her favourite banker on her ninetieth birthday.

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.

Sisters shopping day at Escape on Bank Street in Ottawa. When we bought the same shirt.
Sisters shopping day when we bought the same shirt.

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.

Walking the Barrhaven Trail trail with friends
On the trail with Marina and Margaret.

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.

Sitting in Carmen's chair getting my hair done in the before time.
In Carmen’s chair in the before time.

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.

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42 thoughts on “What I Miss from the Before Time.”

  1. I miss having my monthly facial appt. It is the one thing I’ve rewarded myself with since retiring. When I worked, I envied women who had the time to do this during the day. I also miss going for long hikes at the many parks near us. I miss the freedom of being able to do errands without masks, social distancing and disinfecting. I realize I have much to be thankful for and am lucky that my husband and I are healthy. I am grateful for all of the first responders and essential workers but miss my little luxuries.

  2. I miss going to a movie with my bff and then out for a drink to discuss the movie, our families and life in general! I shudder at the thought that it will be some time before I can or will fly to BC to see my son and his family. I miss freely running out to the store to pick up something. Today, after 9 weeks, I actually put on a mask and ventured forth to a garden centre!

    1. Hubby was at the garden center last week and it was chaos. They were not ready, no directional signs, too many people inside. After the well controlled grocery stores it was a bit alarming.

  3. I think you are very good at waxing philosophical! Really enjoyed this, I miss the little things, and the big things. Physically distancing from my grandchildren is especially difficult. I just want all my children and grandchildren to all be able to come for a BBQ together. I miss my monthly massage abc chiropractic appointments. I miss my aquafit classes. I want to discuss books with my book club friends in person. I am missing other humans. I am very lucky, though, because we have a steady income, my kids are all able to continue working, and we are all healthy.

  4. Hi Sue……the biggest thing I miss are hugs…. hugging my family and friends. I miss going to Toronto to see my sisters and my nieces and nephews. I miss meeting my first great nephew and holding and cuddling with him. I miss my aquafit and yoga classes. I miss getting together with friends for coffee. And I am really missing my hairdresser right now. I feel like a “mop”. But, I am so thankful for my health, the health of my husband and the health and safety of our extended family. I hope you and Stu are keeping well and are safe at home 🙂

  5. I too miss my water aerobics and yoga classes, but I am quite enjoying my Zoom yoga classes. I miss getting to fly cross county to celebrate our oldest grandson’s 4th birthday, and my son’s graduation ceremony from General Surgery Residency. I miss the spontaneity of running to the library or garden center or to a movie. What I have learned to do is slow down, to read much more, to be grateful for good health, food on the table and that all my children and their spouses/partners are still employed. Good read here, Sue, as you have captured how a lot of us are feeling. I always look forward to your posts, as they give me food for thought long after the reading is over.

  6. I am very fortunate in that we are financially and work impacted very little. What I miss are my scheduled socialization: a couple monthly women’s groups, one with 3-4 people, the other with 6-8 (where we bring in some marvelous dishes and share lunch), a weekly lunch with a changing group that I can attend or not, and my quilt guild.

    Another thing quite surprised me. My husband does the bulk of the grocery shopping, which means I go only when I want things I don’t trust him to pick out. I miss being able to go to a store in the afternoon,* knowing it will have everything I want, and having the time to wander, browse, and dither over choices.
    *SO not a morning person

  7. Apart from the Big Things – seeing people I love, safe and happy – I miss very little. I love having so much time to stop and stand and look at things. But, as a matter of fact, I could have done that before but never seemed to make the opportunity. I will bear this in mind in coming months, years…Though the other day, I commented to Mr Green that the place I wanted to be at that very moment was a beachside taverna in Kefalonia where, last summer, we ate long, leisurely lunches just staring out to sea and where an ancient tortoise mooched through the garden. It was perfect happiness. It seems like an unattainable concept right now, other people in the sunshine, wandering the beach and chatting to friendly cafe owners. Soon.

  8. Even though you manage to be intellectual and philosophical in talking about clothes, this is above and beyond, possibly one of my favorite posts here. Another “before time” was not that long ago–9/11–and the effects were global even though the events happened in just two places. This is longer-lasting and more widespread. Imagine how it will change us and already is.
    I miss dinner parties. Intimately gathered around a candlelit table, sharing a meal and conversation. I miss Pilates class, doing exercises that are really unpleasant but whose results I adore. I miss spontaneously helping people–picking up the coins the lady ahead of me spilled and handing them to her. It happened recently and the lady was upset that I’d touched the coins. Sigh.

  9. Wendy in York

    Like you all , I miss social gathering with friends & family . Zoom is not the same . Then there’s lunches out , perhaps in a sunny pub garden or dinner crammed together in a cosy little restaurant on a cool evening . I miss spontaneity too . Thinking ‘ what shall we have for tea ? ‘ & popping out to get whatever I need . Instead I’m planning what & when & arranging food deliveries . All very organized .
    I miss my local city . York is a beautiful old city & , quite rightly , attracts many visitors from all over the world but if you wander round early on a Sunday morning you have it all to yourself with only voices from the past to keep you company . Magical . There are videos on YouTube of foxes roaming around the medieval narrow streets in the evening – they are so empty now . I’m not even sure whether I’m allowed to go there at the moment . I wouldn’t want to be ticked off & sent home . Ah well , the sun is shining ( poss 26 degrees later today ) & the garden is a picture .

    1. Zoom is SO not the same. It’s more like an orchestrated discussion in class. One speaker at a time. I can imagine that York early in the morning must be magical. We only spent the day there because we were staying in Boltby. I would have loved to stay in the old part and wander in the evening.

  10. Seriously, and this covers a myriad of situations and longings, I just miss being spontaneous! Also a retired educator and administrator, I really thought I had moved away from having to plan for every single thing. Although I so enjoy playing in the sticker agenda that my daughter bought for my birthday, at this time there are no fun items in that agenda, and every other mundane excursion requires the planning of a General Patton.
    Chin up, we will get through it, although not soon, from the sounds of things.

  11. Apart from missing friends, family, going out with hubby for a meal, travelling into town for a browse around the shops and a people-watching coffee, the things we used to take for granted, I think what I also miss is be able to make plans.
    I have learnt from life that the best laid plans etc etc, but it’s still human nature to do it.
    The last time I visited my daughter in the city we went to a live gig. So the PLAN was next time we’d go to the theatre. Now who knows when anyone will be able to do that.
    I was also PLANNING a trip back to the UK, after several years. The last few nights I dream I’m there, I hope that’s not what it will be now, a dream.
    That was a philosophical post, Sue, and now you’ve got us all at it !

  12. Yup, dystopian novel is very apt, although I’ve felt that often since our 2016 election in the US – not meaning to get political…
    I miss waking up in the morning and thinking “what’s on for today?” because now when I do, it’s…..nothing.
    I am TERRIBLY envious of retired people, as I have 5 years to go, and it seems like an eternity, even though I like my job. But I have huge travel plans for that time, and if I had just retired now, I’d be heartbroken. I read a comment from an older person who said they felt the pandemic had robbed them of travel in what were probably their last years of mobility – more incentive to do it when you can! I miss having things to look forward to, eating in my favorite restaurants, getting together with friends for drinks or dinner, and the weekly concert series we have an annual subscription to. But, I have a HAIR APPOINTMENT ON THURSDAY!!

    1. I will say that already being retired made this time less of an adjustment for us. We’re thinking that if we have to cancel our Africa plans we will probably never go. Hubby is a good deal older than me, and wonders if he’ll be up for it if we have to wait a year or two to go.
      P.S. So jealous about that hair appointment!

  13. I miss knowing my daughter-in-law is safe — she is an anesthesiologist assistant in charge of the ventilators and respirators for a COVID-19 ICU unit. I miss knowing my son’s future is is safe — his job disappeared two months ago. I also miss being able to go out for coffee, lunch with friends, being able to shop for a new blouse if I want one…..just the simple freedom of going where I’d like to go!

  14. Love this post … one of my favourites. Every sentiment really resonates with me. I’m definitely missing all the various forms of human contact … from early morning chats with the guys where I have a coffee, people in shops, meeting up with friends and random chats with strangers. Most of all I miss my family, sooo much! So hard to express any warmth or compassion on Zoom or FaceTime… and so much can be said with a hug when the right words won’t come. Having said that I’m really grateful for any forms of communication we’re using at the moment as well as for our good health. Not being able to cuddle my granddaughter has been so hard. The few times I saw her at a distance, when dropping off shopping and she held out her arms to me 😢 … I was wrecked. However over time I’ve found ways to express love and excitement when seeing her at a distance … and although she’s only just one I’ve realised she reflects back my expressions! We wave, clap hands, wrinkle our noses, giggle and shake our heads! As her personality develops I realise as much as I want to cuddle her, I’m desperate to actually play with her, read books together etc etc ….
    oh and I miss a really great flat white coffee, and I’m starting to miss my hairdresser.
    You paragraph starting “I miss hugs” made me think of a song my son sent to me last week called “Human Contact” I’ll try and email it to you Sue. I literally sobbed when I listened to it … he said when he first heard it he thought “This is literally mum in a song… “
    Take care Sue.
    Rosie xx

  15. Would give you an A+ for waxing philosophical. A terrific post. Did smile about your magical feeling of being out and about on a “school day” after retirement. Have had that exact feeling ever since my own retirement.
    Mainly missing family members–grandchildren growing by leaps and bounds.
    Miss the lack of concern/naivete I once took for granted about being in close contact with others when out. Now, every public outing brings a small level of angst (being an oldie), especially when there is a cohort around here who think Covid is just a conspiracy. Ugh. A reason to stay put for now.
    Miss the idea of being able to travel wherever/whenever my finances allowed. Hope to stay healthy enough that this will still be an option in years to come.

    1. Thanks, Mary. It’s weird to be out and about, isn’t it? Skirting others at a safe distance. Glaring at those who are oblivious of social distancing.

  16. I miss theatre. I miss concerts (happily, my last one was the Chieftains on their farewell tour, a few days before shutdown, so at least I didn’t have to forego that one!). I miss restaurants, and waiters, and the ease of only having to show up someplace to be fed. I miss having friends over for dinner – cocktails on the front patio, then dinner either in the backyard or our dining room, depending on the weather. I too miss hugs. And alone time, even though I’m incredibly grateful to be safe at home with my beloved husband. I miss running errands without having to *think* about it and make a plan, just going. I miss my weekly walk with my friend Holley. I miss certainty.

  17. Chris in Kentucky

    So many of my feelings- even ones I hadn’t articulated myself – have been beautifully captured in your post , Sue along with all the women who shared their thoughts. I’m delighted to be among so many kindred spirits!
    We had a long planned European river cruise canceled. Sue, in a future post, could you recommend a couple of Canadian trips in Ontario and Quebec that might be fun alternatives. Like so many of your vacations, my husband and I enjoy exploring small towns and the outdoors. Sitting in a street cafe sounds so wonderful right now. Small hotels and B&Bs with personal attention to safety would be our preference over hotel chains. I’m hoping we could travel by late summer/early fall. Thanks for your suggestions- or maybe a reference to an earlier post I may have missed. With yesterday’s plans out the window, I’m keeping an eye out for new adventures!

  18. Jo in Chicago

    I miss taking the train to downtown, meeting my daughter for lunch, and then going with her to The Art Institute or taking a city architectural tour. This was my favorite way to spend an afternoon, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do these things again. I miss the vibrancy of the city, and I very much miss being with my daughter.

  19. I am so pathetic. When there is so much awfulness everywhere, what I miss are SHOPS! There’s not much I really need or would buy, but I long, long, long to be in a large upmarket department store looking at colours, fabrics, and designs, checking the makeup counters, smelling the perfumes. Just wandering and browsing. And who knows, I might go home with a new teeshirt. I should be ashamed.

    1. Oh, don’t feel ashamed, Mary. That’s how I feel too. Whether it’s being in a store or just sitting sipping a coffee and people watching… it’s about being part of the world again.

  20. Last evening we had a Zoom visit with a group from our church. The minister asked us to weigh in on whether we should hold services again. I have been so focused on staying safe that I haven’t let myself think much about getting back to normal, especially since our state‘s (Nebraska) cases have been rising fast. One woman, who was part of the group visit, said a big yes, that she was ready to get back to normal and have everything open up as before. She is well into her sixties and has already gone to eat at a restaurant without a mask and stayed there for hours with her friend. The rest of the group seemed a bit horrified and no one agreed with her. There were younger folks participating and they seemed reluctant for services to be held again. And, of course, I fall into that group.
    It did get me thinking about when and how. What will it be like? When will we be able to fly and what will that be like? I am willing to wear a mask when I am out and about, but when will we be able to hug others? One woman said, do we want to go back to church before we can reach out and shake someone’s hand, give a hug or even sing together. Sigh…..what will it be like?

    1. I hear you. Churches are especially problematic. If they have services as normal. Everyone so close as you said. And the singing. I have a friend in New Brusnwick who is a minister and she’s still doing her services on-line and they haven’t had a new case of the virus in the province in quite a few days.

  21. ChristineCascadia

    I miss faces! Even though I wear a mask and think everyone else should as well, I still wish it weren’t so.

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