The U.S. Surgeon-General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that throughout the pandemic, one of the most common lines he heard was, “Do we want to go back to 2019?” He also said that before COVID hit, there was a loneliness pandemic. COVID-19 just exposed how we had been feeling and upended our lives into a prolonged period of disturbance. But there’s a bright side too – a crisis makes us re-evaluate our lives and ask ourselves if we want to go back to how things were before, or if we can do better.

The German philosopher Nietzsche talked a lot about memory – he believed the worse a society’s collective memory was, the worse their conduct would be, because they wouldn’t remember the difficulties from the past nor what they had learned from them. This got me thinking about the challenges of lockdown and what lessons we will carry into 2022 with it hopefully past us.

What were the things that we missed the most while in lockdown? What were the things we took for granted? Personally, I never realized how much I gained from being exposed to others. This can be friends, but also interactions with strangers, classmates, lecturers, and so on. Going beyond small talk and really paying attention to the different ways people handle situations and tackle life can teach you so much. Everyone’s thought process is different. Some people are more practical and use common sense, while others focus on weighing the risks and benefits. Others prefer to watch and then try something themselves, and someone else may prefer to do things by trial and error. Of course, everyone factors in all of this, but in different degrees. Since seeing people again, I have realized how different everyone’s thought process is and tried to relax my own ways and borrow from theirs when the situation calls for it.

I also missed the little moments I didn’t give much thought to at the time, but in fact contributed much more to my day than anything in my control. Sometimes it was the staff at uni whose good attitude on a Monday morning always improved my own, or my lecturers’ wit, sarcasm, or criticism around a topic we were studying, to a woman feeding ducks at a park while I walked to class and let me hold them before carrying on with my day. In retrospect, these moments gave my day so much richness and pleasure. From now on I want to appreciate them as I’m living them, too. People’s contributions to our lives can give us so much more than we’d imagine. The writer and thinker Wendell Berry said, “a conversation is worth more than either one of us thinking separately.”  Life throws thousands of things our way in a day – they may be full of unnoticed value.

Another thing is to really make the most of the moment. Since lockdown, I meaningfully ask myself what the people I care about need from me – not just words, but actions. Sometimes this can be checking in to call someone even though nothing is wrong, sending a Christmas card in the mail, or making plans before the regular time. Checking in with people when everything is fine is when you least expect to hear from people. Life goes by so quickly, too. The opportunities we have to let our actions speak instead of our promises won’t last forever. Next year, I want to say yes to more things rather than put them off another week, thinking I won’t have time. People can be just as educational as a class, if you pay attention and ask the right questions to draw them out.

There isn’t really a point to this blog – I don’t have a solution, or an instruction manual. But time and again, in the books I read, from philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and economists, they all say: kindness, close attention, and flexibility all make for more pleasant, gratitude-filled days, more meaningful relationships, and more fulfilling lives in the long-term. Lockdown has been a good experience in many ways, but I can definitely see things to tweak if I want to be a better friend, student, and make the most of non-lockdown life. So next year, I will talk to people instead of letting the moment slip by and count on bumping into them later. Now that I think about it, some of my closest friendships have come up that way – follow your gut, and give the uncertain a chance. 😊