The Great Human Hunkering: A Retrospective

We are now 2 years out from day 3 of what I had been referring to as The Great Human Hunkering, a crazy period in which we, as a nation decided to close up shop for a couple months in order to ‘flatten the curve’. Okay, so, yeah, obviously “we” didn’t decide, those in power decided and then there were plenty of people who revolted against it, at the same time that most of our country was still out and about because they were the underpaid folks who were considered essential workers.

But, for those of us who weren’t essential workers and wanted to try to help keep our hospitals from being overrun, we stayed in, away from the rest of the world, and simply hunkered down.

My Timehop (does anyone else still use that app?) has been reminding me of the daily posts I was doing at that time, in some self-appointed need to record the history of it for my family. Things started out feeling a little cheerful about the concept. My wife had come up with a whole bunch of ideas for ways that our kids could keep entertained, having even developed a huge list of online activities of things that had been made free for the hunkering, like museums and drawing classes and, well, just a giant pile of things that I honestly can’t remember any longer. I filled our inflatable hot tub with water and set it up in the basement (a terrible idea when you have cats, btw…RIP inflatable hot tub), all with the idea that we were going to try and make this brief period in our kids lives not nearly as terrible.

Not only did this period not end up being nearly as brief as we had thought, but by day two our kids were already at each other’s throats, and in my office on the regular telling me how bored they were, even though my wife had spent an awful lot of time getting all the things together so they wouldn’t need to ever tell us that.

I’ve often said that one of the weirdest things for me was how not-weird the whole quarantine period for our country was. And in a lot of ways, it really wasn’t that weird, but when I look back at it, it was downright eerie. Not only were my kids, who had suddenly all become these incredibly social kids, stuck at home all the time, not able to see their friends or really go anywhere, but there was also the fact that none of us were seeing anyone. I remember a night where we decided to break the rules and have my sister-in-law over for a drink on our deck. Not only were we outside, but we also kept our distance from each other. And it was amazing to have someone new to see in person again. While still feeling like we were breaking all the rules just in doing so.

Things like going to the grocery store, holding your breath as you walked past anyone else, both to keep from passing or receiving this virus that we knew so little about. Things like giving a wide berth around people while walking down sidewalks, or crossing the street, so as to avoid breathing the same air. And this same look on everyone’s face, even visible beneath the masks, which seemed to question whether we would ever get out of this.

Two years ago, we entered this odd Twilight Zone version of our planet, where people all wanted to interact with each other but were absolutely terrified to do so. Terrified that they might get this disease and then pass it on to someone else who simply didn’t have the immune system necessary to fight it off. People were starved for social activity, but the best we had was to look at faces on screens while we hoped our internet would be good enough throughout the free 45 minute Zoom call, while also knowing that this conversation still wasn’t as good as the real thing.

Two years ago, I went through my normal routine of work and life like I always did, not fully realizing how much my life had been impacted by this global pandemic, and it’s taken me probably two years to actually realize that things were, in fact, really really weird. Sure, the roads might not have been devoid of traffic, because people were still going places, but just the way we all would interact with each other was completely different, down to the looks we would give each other to try and determine where the other person sat on the whole debate of masks, hugs, and whatever else.

Things feel a heckuva lot more normal now, but the weird thing is, I think if we had gone straight to where we are right now, I’d probably find it all much more weird than I did the actual hunkering period. Because during that period, it really just felt like I was back to being my standard I’m-a-parent-and-don’t-have-time-for-social-activity self.

All the same, I’m really appreciating being in a place where I can feel at least a little more comfortable with being a part of the world again, even if I’d really like these case counts to go down a bit more…

And I’m really really glad that my kids aren’t stuck in the house all the time this March. Although Spring Break starts this weekend and I’m sure that will be a whole ‘nother problem brewing.

Published by Adam Oster, Adventure Novelist

Husband, Father, Creator/Destroyer of Worlds

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