By Mark Quiner
During this unprecedented time of forced government and business closures and working from home, many are finding themselves with life completely on hold.
I recently told my son it’s as if God hit the pause button for the whole world. So, while many are forced to stay home during this crisis, they are finding themselves with the most precious of all commodities on their hands: time. And it is imperative that this precious commodity not be wasted.
So what can be done while we are all “gifted” with this precious commodity of time? I know many are working from home in the best, most productive manner they can. But when the work is done for the day, what then? Is it time for unlimited hours of streaming entertainment, whether it be movies, video gaming or social media? Or could this unprecedented, albeit forced, time at home present us with a different kind of opportunity?
What if, instead of being irritated that our busy schedules have come to a screeching halt and looking for ways to entertain ourselves, we actually stop and take inventory of our lives? Where are we now? Where are we going? Who’s important to us? What’s important to us? What if we lost everything that we thought would bring us happiness (health and wealth)? What would we have left?
Yesterday, I “virtually” attended church with my son. The minister was rather poignant when he said that many of us have lost our sense of security including the security from a packed schedule. A busy life can bring meaning to many, but it begs the question, what happens when life can no longer be busy? What do we do when we cannot be “busy” in the traditional sense: when we cannot have the “busy” professional and personal life we value? How do we stay connected professionally and, more importantly, personally with one another? Where do we find meaning in our lives?
Reaching out to others has become a new challenge during this pandemic. It’s incredible that technology in all its many forms is really helping here. People all over the world are finding ways to connect: virtual happy hours, coordinated singing and concerts from the safety of one’s home, online education including webinars, classrooms, etc. Many are learning new skills they didn’t know they could: For example, last night I was part of a Zoom meeting with family and friends that included a 94-year-old mother/grandmother. And she was “Zooming” from her iPad of all things.
But is there something deeper? Pope Francis recently held Mass alone in St. Peter’s Square. A place that is normally filled with thousands was empty save for the pope himself. He said the pandemic had put all of us in the same boat. And he stated that the virus had exposed people’s vulnerability “to those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules.”
During this unprecedented time, maybe it would behoove all of us to take the forced “time out” from our normally “busy” lives to think about what really matters. Theodore Roethke said, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Maybe it’s time that we truly begin to see what’s important to us: faith, family, friends. Those give us purpose. This life doesn’t last forever, and this pandemic too shall pass. And when it’s all said and done, we can come forth as better people, living for what really matters to us.
Mark Quiner is director of NCSL’s Center for Ethics in Government.