I submit this column about three weeks before it’s published. As of writing, I am sheltered in my home because there is a global pandemic. Judge Clay Jenkins instructed me not to leave, and I’m a rule follower. But who knows? By the time this magazine is dropped on your doorstep, we all may have gone back to a new normal with COVID-19 firmly in our rearview mirrors.
Maybe churches will have been packed Easter Sunday.
Maybe I’ll have been to a dinner party in April, where we talked about the craziness of the last couple months and how fortunate we are that it passed so quickly.
Maybe those summer plans we contemplated canceling are back on the calendar.
Or maybe not.
From where I’m sitting, firmly sheltered in place, there’s not much likelihood of anything returning to normal anytime soon.
My original topic for May was the potential dredging of White Rock Lake, our iconic East Dallas gem. This was one of Paula Blackmon’s signature issues when she ran for City Council District 9 last year. I set up a phone call with Blackmon to get her thoughts and understand the status.
By the time we spoke, what was on both our minds was (and probably still is) the health of our community and country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. White Rock Lake only came up as Blackmon described her attempts to manage the throngs of residents violating social distancing rules that were (and may still be) in place.
Blackmon is co-chair of the City of Dallas Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Assistance, which means that her job is to co-lead the effort of spending federal stimulus money to help our city recover without creating further inequities. It’s a big effort.
When I chat with Blackmon, our conversations often veer toward the philosophical. She asked: “The question right now is, ‘What are we going to look like on the other side?’”
I, for one, will look a lot different. Between virtual happy hours with friends near and far and constantly snacking because my home office is just off the kitchen, I seem to be drinking and eating my way through COVID-19. Add to the list: I don’t dress up for work, I don’t do my hair, I no longer wear makeup and I pretty much have given up on my physical appearance.
From what I hear, I’m not the only one.
Of course, Blackmon and I weren’t talking about what we will literally see when we look in the mirror, but metaphorically.
Will we realize that nationwide telecommuting works and makes for a healthier planet? How will our kids fare without live interactions with their peers? What will happen to those who are dealing with depression or isolation and are, perhaps, sheltered with their abusers?
Will social distancing continue? Will we forgo the ubiquitous handshake or hug and replace it with elbow-touch greetings or the palms-pressed together “namaste?” Will we give shade to every person who coughs in public?
On the positive side, will we slow down and continue the new norms of family dinners, spending more time with our kids and over-tipping those who deliver our meals and groceries? Will we understand how our actions affect more than those immediately around us and place a greater value on the lives of others?
Will we experience a cultural shift?
The goal of the federal stimulus package is to create jobs, bring people back to employment and reopen businesses. For Blackmon and her ad hoc committee, the focus goes beyond that to ensure our city moves forward after the crisis. Her hope is that as we transition to the other side, we take this as an opportunity to prioritize creating connections. Perhaps it’s by employing residents to address infrastructure needs, including networking our sidewalks and enabling Wifi throughout our city so no one lives in an internet desert. The focus is positive outcomes for all.
Whether we experience a true cultural shift will depend on the length of our hibernation. If it’s a few weeks, there are folks — perhaps including my own District 14 councilman — who will say this was overblown. But the other side will proclaim our quick recovery was because we took this seriously.
There will be more uncertainty in reimagining life the longer this goes on. Being forced to be more insular — except for those who continue to frolic in large groups at White Rock Lake — will create the need for connectivity, including virtual happy hours and so much more.
There are many who are predicting what we will look like on the other side. No one knows yet, but it’s a fate in which we have a say. Let’s take this as an opportunity.
Editor’s note: After submitting this column, Havlick’s father-in-law died. Four hours after his death, they learned he tested positive for COVID-19.
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