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Finding pandemic’s silver linings

WASHINGTON — Trying to find a silver lining in the pandemic while it’s still raging may be a fool’s errand, but evidence abounds that the curse of the coronavirus has had some positive effects on us, both individually and collectively.

While we can hardly believe what’s happened — or that we’re still facing shutdowns and even more isolation — we’re still mostly sane and, with stupefying exceptions, largely responding responsibly.

The more fortunate among us can still walk outside (with care) and adapt to the requirements of safety by social distancing and avoiding crowds or indoor gatherings. This won’t last forever, we tell ourselves, as we mask up and scrub our hands yet again.

In between these rituals, we’ve made other adjustments, conscious and unconscious, that may last much longer than the virus and serve us well into the future.

Consciously, we take extra precautions and try to think through how our actions might affect others; unconsciously, we’re absorbing old lessons of survival that have lain dormant for a century or so. Based on observation and anecdote, it seems we’re becoming more empathic and caring.

Perhaps it’s the season.

Or maybe some behavioral anthropologist will interpret these new strains of altruism as selfish constructs geared toward a greater likelihood of reciprocity and therefore survival. But I remain satisfied that we’ve become less absorbed with things that are tangential to the qualities deemed essential to our humanness and more attuned to what I call deathbed issues.

As we’re forced to consider our mortality, prematurely for so many, what thoughts occupy our minds? Not work, I’m guessing, but family and friends, dreams unrealized, legacies achieved and left undone and, cutting to the core, missed opportunities to spend time with those we love. Damn the clock.

As brutal irony would have it, these realizations occur most readily when we can least act upon them. I’d like to visit my elder cousins, but fear that underlying health conditions make this untenable. Newly arrived babies in my extended family likely won’t know their eccentric great-aunt during their infancy, nor I one of life’s greatest sensory pleasures — the smell of a baby’s head.

But none of these relatively minor deprivations compare to the horror of a loved one quarantined in a hospital and dying alone.

Zoom and social media are thin gruel for a nation starved for affection.

Social media is filled with people proffering home-cooked meals, homemade treats and gifts, to say nothing of the many pets who are clearly happier because their humans are working from home. We’re finding time to deliver a meal to a neighbor and otherwise becoming more self-sufficient as the pandemic discourages house calls from people who know how to handle a wrench.

There are downsides, too, of course. After 33 years of marriage — and working from home together — The Husband and I discovered the fine art of bickering, which we tackled with unusual flair and gimlet-eyed precision. I’m sure we’re not alone. Netflix, for which we thank God, provided a solution.

We really are all in this together, trying to keep doing this, trying to figure it out. And we will. Vaccines will help. A clean slate and a new president will provide a psychological boost.

Eventually, the virus will become less prevalent and we’ll breathe freely again. When that time comes, my sense is that for a while, at least, we’ll hurry less, reach out more, honk less and yield more — and greet each day with greater gratitude than we did before.

If that’s not a silver lining, it’s something.

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