I always write my columns for the Cleveland Jewish News a week-and-a-half in advance. I submit them on Thursday and they appear the following Friday. This means that I have to take a look at the calendar and fast-forward my mind. I determine what kind of mindset people will be in the following week based on whatever is going on on the calendar, and try to write accordingly. Sometimes I just write neutral pieces, but I try to make it timely whenever I can.
The great irony, of course, is that now we have no idea what tomorrow will look like, never mind next week. The sweet, innocent arrogance inherent in presuming what will be happening in a week-and-a-half is suddenly gone. We have all been humbled; we have been brought to our knees. We finally know that we simply don’t know.
What do I know about next week? Well, by the time this column appears, Passover will be over. What will it have felt like? What new restrictions will be in place for us? Will it feel like the holiday of freedom? I don’t have answers to any of these questions.
One of the greatest opportunities for growth in the age of coronavirus is finally confronting this sweet innocent arrogance. How many times have we said, “Next week I’m doing this.” Or, “The kids are going to camp this summer.” Or, even more confidently, “We’re going to Europe next year.” This summer, my husband and I were “supposed to” go on a trip to Europe, culminating in a Shabbat in Israel where I was going to stay to lead a Momentum trip. Our country of choice? Italy.
Of course, I was actually supposed to go nowhere. God is the master planner, not me. The breezy way in which we’ve talked about our future has changed, and I hope permanently. I hope that I as a person, and we as a People, and we as a universe, have learned that our future is simply not guaranteed. That we are frail and myopic humans. That we do not know, and have never known our fate.
How long will this new humility last? How long before we go back to thinking that we are the gods of our destiny?
I propose that we all write ourselves a letter now, to be opened in a year. A mini time capsule, of sorts. What do we want ourselves to remember in six months or a year? What commitments do we want to make to ourselves now? In what ways have coronavirus changed us?
By the time you read this, I hope life will have gone back to “normal.” Back to work. Back to school. Back to the daily treadmill.
Here are some things I want you to remember.
Stop buying things you don’t need. The basics are enough. Consumerism is a waste of time, money, and mental energy. Don’t clutter your life. Strip it down to the necessities.
Evenings with your family are precious. Say no to every non-essential commitment to reduce stress and reclaim your family as your top priority.
Impressing others is the most colossal waste of time. Coronavirus shattered the notion of specialness. A pandemic makes all that status stuff look trivial, and it is. Who cares what everyone thinks?
There would be more, but that’s a start.
This time capsule is not for others. It is for ourselves. I think we’ve seen from 9/11 that events that rock our world rarely change us permanently, unless we put in a significant amount of work to ensure that change.
Let’s do it. Let’s put in that work. Let’s make that change. Because this I know: nothing is in our hands, and nothing has ever been in our hands, except for our own choices. And, to quote an old song, that may be all I need to know.