Have you guys seen the COVID-19 updates Dr. Craig R. Smith, the Chair of Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, has been writing to his colleagues every day? They are short bulletins that simultaneously update the current relevant statistics on the hospital’s operations before segueing to a discussion of one of the challenges the hospital is facing and how they are attempting to address the problem. They often finish with some small anecdote or bit of wisdom that, for the intended audience, is meant to bind them together in their mission.
I signed up to get them in my email inbox because I find them reassuring to read, even (or especially) when the news is grim. There’s something about Dr. Smith’s expression of fortitude on behalf of his team that reflects something vital about the human spirit that I want to maintain my belief in. I sometimes get a little misty-eyed at the final paragraph.
The entire Broadway cast of Hamilton reuniting to perform a socially-distanced version of “Alexander Hamilton” on John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” YouTube channel had a similar effect.
Anyway, my new ritual of reading Dr. Smith’s updates that aren’t even intended for me has me thinking more about the role rituals play in grounding our lives, often subconsciously.
On Twitter, my friend Mike Caufield, who is an expert in teaching digital literacy, talked about “weirdly missing” his commute: “The feeling of overcranking the car heat on a slightly chilly morning and putting the coffee in the drink holder.”
Can you imagine missing your commute?
Seriously, I’m asking. As you guys know, it’s been a long time since I had a commute.
Here’s a ritual I’m missing, our Monday meetings. I know that seems strange since we’re still having our Monday meetings, but it’s not the same.
That sounds weird because I’m the one who spends the vast majority of his time working remotely even under normal circumstances, while you all are clustered in the office, but there’s something different now that we’re all on our individual phones, rather than all of you gathered around the phone pod in the Willow living room, with me at home, eagerly anticipating your call.
Right around ten your time, eleven mine, there it was on my phone’s digital display—Conference pod—and I would answer and say “Hello, Pod,” as though the joke wasn’t stale after the first dozen times.
While the purpose of the Monday meeting—going over the week’s work—is fulfilled, the fuller ritual of the Monday meeting has been disrupted. The calls are shorter now, have you noticed? They are more focused, but they feel less, I don’t know…energizing?
I even miss the sound of the heating system roaring into life. When I would hear it kick into gear, I would think, Ah, it’s cold there, and look out my window in South Carolina and briefly (and a little smugly) think, not here.
There’s other rituals I’m really starting to miss. Wednesday night dinner out is a big one. Kathy almost always works a Monday to Wednesday schedule, so on most Wednesdays we go out to eat, usually at The Obstinate Daughter on nearby Sullivan’s Island. Wednesday is the best night to go out because even though OD is always busy, we can get a seat at the bar without a reservation. We have to sit close, so our knees touch. Kathy has two drinks (she’s off the next day). I have one. They have a fish special that’s always amazing, and this time of year it would be soft shell crabs.
They’re still doing carryout, which means we can eat the food, but it ain’t the same.
I’m also not reading nearly as much as usual despite all the time. I wrote about the phenomenon in my Trib column a couple weeks ago, identifying grief as the cause. On the one hand, it seems silly to be grieving, considering my incredible good fortune during this difficult time, but after publishing it, I heard from dozens of other people who are experiencing something similar. I knew I wasn’t alone and I honestly felt a little better.
I even decided to relax and forgive myself for not being able to read for the time being, though I’m eager to get back to it.
There is one ritual I’ve adopted that I’m going to have to stop soon, a nightly bowl of Baskin Robins mint chocolate chip ice cream.
What can I say? It brings me comfort, but if I keep it up, I’m going to be dealing with the Quarantine 15.
P.S. What do you think of putting this up on our blog, a la Dr. Smith’s missives? No doubt, it’s not as vital as the work at Columbia Hospital, but I have to think lots of other working people are experiencing things similar to us, and maybe this will resonate with them.