Beginnings: How do We Start Over?

Starting over is on my mind these days, because someday we will return to the world again and it will look different. I can already see it in the faces of people when I need to shop. The curiosity about others is fading, replaced with fear. What harm could you bring me? How much distance will you put between us? This is the new social order. Will it disappear once we are allowed to resume normal social interaction? I am not so sure.

Fears of others have always been there, we have just chosen to ignore the risks. But now that we are heightened to the dangers of hand shakes and close contact, who is to say that it won’t develop into a new social norm. There are societies that tolerate more and less social closeness than ours. The flexibility of human beings is well established, and we cannot be sure than any culture can undergo a shock like this one and leave it unscathed.

Montaigne believed that this kind of adaptation was healthy.  What bothered him was our constant clinging to youth and wish to begin again, as if nothing had happened

The greatest flaw which they find in our nature is that our desires are for ever renewing their youth. We are constantly beginning our lives all over again. Our zeal and our desire should sometimes smell of old age. We already have one foot in the grave yet our tastes and our pursuits are always just being born.

I don’t accept having one foot in the grave, but I do agree that beginnings should seem harder as we get older. We know all too well with age where the last mistakes led. We should have some fear of repeating the same mistakes and being in the same hole.  Or worse, we should especially fear ignoring the things that lead to repeated mistakes, root causes that we often ignore as we latch onto simpler reasons for failure.

Our greatest error is taking our basic health for granted, assuming that a state of wellness can be maintained forever simply by keeping to the same routines. In reality, we need to place health in place of special honor in our lives:

Health is precious. It is the only thing to the pursuit of which it is truly worth devoting not only our time but our sweat, toil, goods and life itself. Without health all pleasure, scholarship and virtue lose their lustre and fade away. The most firmly supported arguments against this that Philosophy seeks to impress on us can be answered by this hypothesis: imagine Plato struck down by epilepsy or apoplexy; then challenge him to get any help from all those noble and splendid faculties of his soul.

The most painful beginnings will be for those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic. Next will be for those who have been grievously damaged — those who developed chronic illnesses, lost their job or business, or their home. Some families and friendships will not survive the stress.  Workplace resentments will form based on the inconsistent workloads being carried — and will be exacerbated as companies continue to scale back as they recover. We will come out on the other side of this different from how we went in.

It takes resilience and optimism to just pick up and restart. What we often do not understand is that it takes just as much resilience and optimism to keep carrying on as the ground shifts under us. Some things will have to remain the same, but the terms will change. We all have to prepare ourselves for new world, even when it looks exactly like the old.