The ‘little pleasures’ of the coronavirus pandemic are losing their shine

Venturing back out into the world is going to take some readjustment. In this sense, the coronavirus risks making agoraphobes of us all.

Travelling by train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Travelling by train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like a cave-dweller whose eyes need time to adjust to the light after emerging from months underground, so too will it take humanity time to readjust to life as we knew it before corona – once the coronavirus disappears.
It has now been eight months since the first COVID-19 case washed upon our shores, interrupted our regularly scheduled lives and upended everything. Eight months is a long time; long enough to begin getting used to certain things and patterns, and forgetting others.
For instance, I’m now pretty darn used to my home. I’m so used to it, in fact, that I feel little pangs of insecurity when I leave it. The home is safe and germ-free. No need for a mask. It’s comfortable.
My children have all long moved out, so there is no one to annoy me with loud music, midnight cooking, hogging the bathroom. Since The Wife and I are in lockstep, I can pretty much control my environment – all the time. And it feels good being able to control the environment – who breathes on you, and who doesn’t; who can get close, and who needs to stay away.
Leave the home and you are out in the big world, and the big world – dozens of years after I ceased being intimidated by it – is suddenly a little bit scary again.
People wearing masks only on their chin may sneeze on you on the sidewalk; somebody may actually take that empty seat next to you on the bus; a guy in the supermarket may stand precariously too close at the checkout line. None of that happens at home. Venturing back out into the world is going to take some readjustment. In this sense, the coronavirus risks making agoraphobes of us all.
LAST WEEK I got a taste of this – what it will be like reemerging into the big world – when I had to drop off my car in Tel Aviv and then take the train back to Jerusalem.
It had been a long time since I was last in Tel Aviv; in fact, not since the COVID-19 virus began. Walking around, even though the streets were nearly empty, I felt like a hick – a greenhorn – visiting the big city for the first time. I was not quite sure of my bearings, was a bit over-awed by it all, tilted my head up to see the tall buildings.
“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” kept running through my mind.
And the train? I haven’t enjoyed a railroad ride as much since I rode up to the summit of Colorado’s Pikes Peak in elementary school with my family.
Something about just getting on a train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem bespoke of getting back to normal.
The train was clean and not crowded. I looked out the window at the passing scenery and it just reminded me that – yes – there still is a wide world out there, and that it is good. Eight months mostly at home had constricted my vision; the train ride opened my eyes again to the allure of the world beyond my neighborhood.
And all that awakened pangs of longing: longing for the bustle, longing for walking into a coffee shop full of people, longing to travel, longing again to be free to do and to go as I please.
The coronavirus, with all its restrictions, pulled us off of the super-fast “doing” and “going” track, and – by limiting us to home for long periods – forced us all, or at least all of us without young children to take care of, onto the “being” track.
Since there is only so much you can do at home – only so many bookshelves that need arranging, only so many drawers that need reorganizing, only so many overdue chores that you can finally get to  – at a certain point you are forced just to be: with yourself, with your thoughts, with your emotions, with your spouse, over and over and over again.
“Being” is slower and calmer than “doing.” Life is a constant tension between “doing” and “being.” The beauty in the pre-corona days is that you could choose when “to do,” and when just “to be.”
But with COVID-19 that choice has been largely stripped away, and “being” has been forced upon us, whether we like it or not. The Wife, she of the yoga retreats and the mindful meditation, feels comfortable in that mode; me, less so.
Since I had little choice, however, I was getting used to it all. I was getting used to staying home day after day; getting used to my daily adventure being a walk around the block; getting resigned to finding pleasure not in doing or going, but just in being; in watching our new robot vacuum cleaner – “George” – whirling in figure eights around the living room, cleaning all the while; in sitting on the balcony and staring into the rising sun. The little pleasures.
Little pleasures are nice, and can and should be enjoyed. They are especially nice when they are offset, from time to time, by bigger pleasures. As John Steinbeck wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”
Those little pleasures – watching the robot clean the floor, listening to the slurping sounds from a straw, feeling the refreshing other side of the pillow at night – are nice when they are not your only pleasures; when in addition you can gain pleasure from more substantive experiences, like dinner with friends, a concert, travel abroad. The little pleasures start to lose some of their charm when they become the “big” ones.
Welcome to month nine of the coronavirus.