In this week’s column, a melancholic Gavin reflects on what he, and many of us, are missing at this time…
Everyone, surely, must welcome the re-opening of businesses this week. It’s not a full return to normality, of course, but it’s the new normal.
Now, if there was ever a phrase that makes my stomach turn, that’s it. The new normal is not normal, and it never will be. We are still living through an acute health emergency, and it looks like we may be doing so for sometime.
But for some reason, the taste of life as it used to be, over the past few days, has made me miss normality even more.
Of course, people are still getting very sick, and dying, because of the coronavirus and those who have lost loved ones have an absence in their lives that’s much greater than mine. I’m blessed to not be in that position. And while I haven’t found this period painless, I know that I’m also lucky to still be working. My thoughts are with all of those people who have truly suffered.
But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to be a voice for everyone else, just for a minute.
Feeling a little melancholic on Monday, I sent messages and a tweet to ask people about the little things they miss from their lives. They helped me come up with my own list of the things that I will never take for granted again.
Most of all, I miss people, or at least the people that matter most to me. Three months ago, we didn’t need a screen and headphones to talk with each other. Technology is great, but it’s not the same, and I don’t just mean the lack of that human touch. It all has to be planned now. Will anything taste sweeter than your next cup of tea after you call over to see the parents, or the kids? Or the grandkids.
Or friends. Before, in the olden days of February, we used to bump into friends, randomly, up the town. Or not. It was spontaneous. A simple joy. A “How are ya? How’s the kids? How’s the mother?” catch-up, and a smile. I miss smiles too. But that’s what we did when we could meet in an unplanned way and go for a cup of coffee. Or a pint.
I miss pints. I don’t know if it’s PC to say that, but I do. I don’t miss the actual drink itself, to be clear. I miss the experience. Ordering your tipple, having it poured for you, and handed to you over the bar. I even miss paying over the odds for it…just about. It’s all so relaxed. Treating yourself. Talking nonsense for a couple of hours with the lads, or herself. I miss that conversation. A laid back, often inconsequential conversation about everything and nothing. The match on the TV in the corner…
I miss sport. A quick anecdote – back in March, an NFL Quarterback you may have heard of called Tom Brady moved teams in what was a major sports story in the US. I tuned into US sports radio and there they were… talking about American Football. Just American Football. It was all so normal. For just a moment, there was no coronavirus, no COVID-19, no feeling of oppression, no misery. I remember it clearly because it was the last time my life felt normal, and even then it was just for a fleeting moment while out walking on St. Patrick’s Day. Two months ago.
I miss being enthralled by sport. I miss being excited, angered, annoyed, and thrilled by the unpredictability of it all. The ‘greatest hits’ on TV are great but they never surprise you. Sport gives me a range of emotions, and makes me feel alive. For you, that might come from a film, or a concert, or a play. Settling down beside others to enjoy what happens in front of us all. I miss that. I miss the roar of a crowd. I miss the silence of a crowd. I’ll miss that for a while I’d say.
I still don’t miss bad referees.
I miss being able to walk into a shop without counting how many people are inside first. I miss when there was no need for latex gloves, face masks and perspex screens, and no sanitiser pumps. I miss my hands not smelling of sanatiser all the time.
I miss shaking hands. The “Ah, it’s yourself!” handshake. The “I’m sorry for your loss” handshake. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to express sympathies with those you know who’ve lost loved ones right now. For them, the pain must be even more unbearable.
I miss the feeling of sand between my toes, on a quiet beach, not long after the tide has gone out so the sand is firm but still welcoming, as it glistens under the bright sun. You still need a jumper – it is Ireland – but it’s all so fresh. It’s natural. The sound of a child’s laughter as they run into the sea, just far enough so that the water covers their ankles, and they hastily retreat from the freezing waters. And go back in again. There’s no proper beach within my 5km, or even my 20km, so if you are by the shore, tell it I’ll see it soon. Me and half the country.
How many kids aren’t laughing as much any more? How many kids aren’t able to play with their friends now? I get it, I do. Social distancing, flatten the curve, save lives… Of course, that’s most important, but we are all paying such a heavy price. I miss the time when everything wasn’t about COVID-19. I yearn for the day that I don’t get a Breaking News alert on my phone to tell me of the latest case numbers, and the deaths of course. Each one a tragedy.
I miss the freedom that we were able to enjoy when we didn’t fully appreciate that it was freedom. I miss it all. I miss it for all of us.
I will continue to stick the course on hand washing and social distancing and everything else because I want all of those experiences back, and much more. I am so, so tired of these restrictions but the virus isn’t tired of making people sick, and killing them.
We all have to keep on keeping on, so normal times can return again.
The old normal.