The newsroom is pretty quiet. In my office, the occasional, rhythmic clacking of computer keys and an old analog clock on the wall — the kind you would’ve seen in a school years ago — are the only things that puncture the silence. Turns out, that clock is pretty loud.
I started coming back to the office about three weeks ago, give or take, when my son reentered in-person classes at his school. I still haven’t adjusted to waking up in the dark and getting a child upright, sentient, dressed, fed and out the door on time without forgetting anything, even though I did it routinely before March.
The return has prompted an interesting dichotomy that I’m sure a lot of other people who had the benefit of working from home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have encountered.
Yes, things are different. But I’m almost disappointed in how they’re also the same.
I’ve spent somewhere around seven months living a less-structured lifestyle that has gone through several phases. From the outset, I tried to look at the positives of shutdowns and the stay-at-home and safer-at-home periods. I started eating better. I cut soft drinks out nearly completely. I had more quality time with my family. I actually accomplished some of those things I was going to do “one day” around the house. I got back into some long-neglected hobbies.
Sure, I also wasted plenty of time that could’ve been put to better use. But, to me, the accomplishments outweigh the lack thereof, or at least balance the ledger.
One of the good things about coming back to the office is that I found I could actually get a lot more done, because I had been working around (mostly pleasant) distractions at home.
However, I was disappointed to discover how much of my routine at my place of work is hardwired into me. My first day back, without even thinking, I walked down the hall to the vending machine and got a Diet Dr. Pepper, because that’s what I do in the office nearly every day before banging out an editorial or column. I mean, that’s downright Pavlovian.
I also find myself parking in the exact same spot before making my way into the building. There’s a new wrinkle here. Halfway between my car and the building entrance, I pause, turn around and head back to the car, because I’ve forgotten my mask. I was on the mask bandwagon early, and I’m pretty careful about the whole concept, but my brain doesn’t yet associate a mask with the office.
During our seven months at home, my family probably had fast food less than 10 times. I’ve grabbed fast food at least three times in three weeks since coming to the office. Is that the worst thing in the world? Probably not. But I was doing and feeling so much better before.
Taking the long view, these are minor things that, frankly, I’m lucky to get to complain about. I came back to the office because I wanted to. There are tons of workers who never left their jobs because they were deemed essential and couldn’t work from home. A lot of these people are earning low wages, and deserve more for putting themselves at risk.
Then there are those for whom the pandemic meant losing a job or having to close down their small business. Superseding all of that are those who contracted the virus and became ill, or lost their lives.
As I’ve said many times before, I look forward to this being over, although I know it won’t be for a while yet. Still, I consider myself and my family, through all of the curves we’ve had thrown at us this year, fortunate. Perspective is almost a luxury in these times.