A bit over a month ago, my husband David had surgery to remove a cataract from his right eye. After the procedure, he came home and said he was seeing things in technicolor. He wasn’t high from pain meds (my brave guy was wide awake for the procedure). What he was seeing was vivid color for the first time in years. The surgery literally replaced the cloudy lens that turned his vibrant world into shades of grey and left him with a completely new view. Within hours post-procedure, I saw him marvel at the colors of the trees and remark with amazement that the house across the street was tan rather than grey. For the next couple of days, he looked through his right eye while blocking the left and vice-versa, marveling at the difference between the two views. I listened with wonder as he described everything that appeared so much brighter and more saturated than anything he remembered.
It was as though he was seeing the world for the first time.
* * *
A couple of weeks after his surgery, we found ourselves back in New York City, our second home and a place we sorely missed during our shelter-in-place year. New York is still playing it safe: the streets are emptier than usual, restaurants are different, and many stores are still closed. But there is a buzz that is inherent in a big city. It felt particularly alive as the colors of spring coincided with an increasingly vaccinated population who were, like David, seeing the world with fresh eyes.
What’s more, most of the people we encountered felt metamorphosed, coming out of their cocoons, stretching their wings, and greeting their familiar world not only with a big, post-vaccination exhale but with a reminder of the joy that freedom brings and the warmth that can come from being near other human beings. We noted how strangers who would have walked by each other on the streets actually nodded or winked behind their masks. Servers were happier, cashiers chattier, and pedestrians more aware of making room for others walking nearby. It was as though they were seeing each other in a new way.
This visit completely reminded me of what it felt like as New York City reopened after the terrors of 9/11. When the dust cleared, and we were told it was safe to return to our work and our homes, New Yorkers realized how much they had taken for granted before the terrorist threats, and we treated each other with an enhanced level of reverence, kindness, and sensitivity. I remember strangers letting working mothers join them at the front of the line that wrapped around the Christopher Street Path Station so that they could get home in time to tuck their kids in bed. I remember tourists being escorted to the building they were seeking, rather than becoming prey to pick-pockets or con-artists. I remember the grace on the subway trains when riders actually noticed each other and made room on the seats for the elderly or sick or those who just looked like they needed a rest.
It is now two weeks after our trip, and we are back in the Bay. A few days ago, David had a cataract removed from his other eye. Yes – there were still the technicolor rainbows as the light streamed in, but after a few days, his eyes had adjusted to their own normal. I asked him whether the world looked different, and he said he actually couldn’t remember what they looked like just a month or so before when his entire world was lost behind a cloud of grey.
Will we quickly forget the grey as we step out into a new normal?
* * *
We forget the things we missed once we have them again. We forget the new priorities we set for ourselves without the incentive of longing. We don’t waste time on introspection when we are running again at full pace.
I worry that we will forget all that this isolation has taught us when we head into post-COVID life. In a relatively short time, we will be back in offices, bars, and stadiums. We will hug our loved ones and fly to see them, and take vacations as we have always done. But, how quickly will we forget the simple joy of outdoor walks or dinners with friends? How many days until we stop checking in on neighbors or lovingly calling family members that we haven’t seen for a while. Will we dial back on the FaceTime chats, the Zoom connections, and the bonding with those in our own homes? Will we stop appreciating all of the workers, providers, and service people who got us through?
This year and a half of isolation will fade in memory as David’s recollection of his pre-surgery eyesight has already done.
Does it have to?
* * *
This moment of returning can also be a moment of reckoning; a moment to make amends for the behaviors we fall into when we aren’t forced to re-frame.
There is no reason that a return to normal can’t include incorporating some of the simple acts that helped us all feel connected and seen even now that we can begin to see each other in person. This is an opportunity to make a permanent commitment to remember what it felt like to have the limitations and clouded lenses and to hold onto the skills we built that allowed us to substitute vivid color of being out in the world for the vivid feelings of interconnectedness and interdependence when we were distanced.
Let’s make a pact never to forget.
- Never forget that we found new ways to connect and to keep those bonds strong
- Never forget that we saw the value in small acts of kindness, and to keep up with those small acts long after the obvious need has passed
- Never forget that when our own worlds are bright again, there are still so many people who are locked in isolation that we can now relate to and that we can see them with compassion and empathy
* * *
How will you keep this moment alive?
Share it Small: Make a pact with a friend to remind each other of the things you are happiest to return to, as well as to hold on to the experiences that you don’t want to forget. Return to that pact every now and then to see how you are doing and work together to recommit to treasuring freedom without forgetting the lessons learned in isolation.
Share it Big: Live life out loud. By being open about your gratitude and channeling it into the work you do, the relationships you have, and all of the people you choose to meet with love, you will be the change you wish to see.
Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.