It’s mid-July. We’re now 4 months — 1/3 of a year — into a world we never imagined in those innocent days of late winter.
When Westport schools suddenly closed on March 11, we were told “2 weeks.” That stretched into mid-April. Finally, the inevitable announcement: School was done for the rest of the year.
We’d already endured a lot. A “super-spreader” party landed Westport in the national spotlight. On the first nice weekend, hundreds headed to Compo. Within hours, town officials closed the beaches.
We foraged for toilet paper, figured out how to find curbside food, watched our hair grow.
Those early days seem like a thousand years ago. The time before the pandemic — say, March 10 — belongs to another universe.
But this is the town, the country and the planet we inhabit now. Four months in to our new (ab)normal, here are a few thoughts.
My nephew and his wife had a child last week. What is it like to be born at a time when everyone a baby meets wears a mask? How can he make sense of the world without seeing smiling faces admiring his every move? And it’s not just newborns I worry about. The longer we all must wear masks, the harder it is for any of us to make the human connections so vital to all our lives.
Momentous world events shape the young generations that live through them. The Depression, for example, scarred people forever. For decades, men and women who now had plenty of money ate everything on their plate, because they still worried where their next meal would come from. They turned off lights in empty rooms, to “save electricity.” It’s too early to know how the pandemic will etch itself into the brains of young people, but I can’t imagine they’ll have a positive, adventurous view of the world.
On the other hand, it’s been fun watching so many families embrace the outdoors. They walk together, all over. Teenagers who seldom exercised took up running. Bikes were hauled up from the basement. The town is reopening now, but I still see more outdoor activity than ever.
I was impressed too by the number of teenagers who used their time away from school productively. I suggested to the players in our Staples High School soccer program that they try new activities. I expected eye-rolling. What I got was a number who learned how to cook, play guitar or write code.
We held weekly Zoom calls with our returning players. A couple of weeks ago, I asked what they have learned about themselves. The results were insightful — and inspiring. “I learned I need structure in my life. I wasn’t happy just sleeping until noon,” one said. “I had a great time with my siblings,” another noted. “I learned not to be afraid of spending time alone,” said a third. “I realized I really like myself!”
No one knows yet what the fall sports season will look like (or if there will be one). But when I return to the soccer field (whenever that is), I know I will be a different coach than before. I already feel things shifting. Little things that used to drive me up a wall — a referee’s call, or canceling a training session at the threat of rain that does not come — will no longer seem worrisome. Our players, and the joy they get from the sport, will become more important than ever.
With so many new rules and regulations, meanwhile, will many old ones seem insignificant? Does it really matter if, in the winter, dogs are unleashed on one part of the beach and not another? Or if, during the summer, we have bottles and cans at Compo?
As for the beach: One unintended consequence of the pandemic is that Westporters discovered Sherwood Island. The 232-acre gem — with walking trails, wildlife, a Nature Center and the state’s 9/11 memorial — has sat right there, virtually unnoticed by most of us, for decades. The secret is out now. And did I mention that for anyone with a Connecticut license plate, it’s free?!
Until the Y reopened for swimming, I spent an hour or two every day biking. It was great exercise, and with little traffic on the roads, I no longer feared for my life. My goal — which I did not meet — was to ride up and down every side street in town. There are lots of them! (Nearly every one ends in a cul-de-sac.) And boy, are our roads in terrible condition. Soundview Drive is smooth and newly paved. Everywhere else — well, I had a new reason to fear for my life.
From the start, we knew some restaurants would not survive. It’s so sad to think of those we’ve lost, like Da Pietro’s, Tavern on Main and Le Penguin. And Chez 180: The patisserie across from Jeera Thai opened just a few days before the coronavirus hit. Everyone raved about it. The doors are shut now; new furnishings and gleaming cases sit forlorn and empty. The timing could not have been worse.
Closings like those have made us realize the importance of so many (mostly non-Westporters) to our lives. Restaurant cooks; the folks who stock shelves and work registers at CVS, Walgreens, Stop & Shop and Trader Joe’s; mail carriers, and FedEx and UPS deliver persons. There are literally thousands of others. Some lost work; others worked harder than others. Until March, we pretty much saw through and past them. Now we understand that they’re the men and women who make Westport go.
Volunteers also make Westport go. Many organizations lost fundraisers this year: A Better Chance. The Westport Woman’s Club. Sunrise Rotary. They do so much good for our town. They have not complained at all — but I’m surprised so little attention has been paid to their collateral damage.
A few days ago, I went inside Staples High School. Even in summer, it usually bustles with activity. The emptiness this time was overwhelming. A school without people is not really a school.
That same day, I saw a Dattco bus. I have no idea why it was on the road, or where it was going. But it made me wish — almost — that once again I could be stuck behind it, creeping along as it stops every 5 yards to serve one eager, backpacked (and unmasked) child at a time.
Minutes after the second plane struck the 9/11 tower — when it was clear the US was under attack — I had one overpowering thought: Our world has just changed forever. I did not know how — who could have imagined the effects on our airports, immigration system and political process? — but there is a clear, defining line. There was life before 9/11, and life after.
I had the same thought in the early days of the pandemic. Since then, that realization has become a reality. Once again, I am not sure what life post-pandemic will look like. But everything — from daily school bus rides and summers at Compo, to the way my 2-week-old great-nephew relates to his parents, peers and the entire planet — will be different.
Those are my admittedly random, very personal thoughts. What have you learned — about yourself, our town, the world — since March 11? Click “Comments” below.