Ashes to Ashes: Things I miss

Once, at a Hong Kong popstar’s Las Vegas concert (that I attended with my grandma), I sat quietly in front of a pair of middle-aged women as they discussed their affairs. The concert had yet to start and they either thought they weren’t speaking as loudly as they were, or had assumed I didn’t understand Cantonese — they were wrong on both counts.

I can’t remember the details of their conversation now, but I remember bringing it up to my grandma after the concert as we were in the taxi heading back to our hotel. She promptly burst out in laughter and said, “I thought you didn’t understand them. I was listening too.”

Is there anything more fun than listening in on people’s conversations, especially when they’re incredibly juicy ones? It’s one of my favorite pastimes, something I haven’t gotten to do since the pandemic took over the public gathering spaces where I usually get to put my eavesdropping skills to work. What I wouldn’t give to listen to a young couple bicker about who needs to do the dishes or teenagers complain about a particularly difficult social science test.

There are a lot of things I’ve been missing recently, simple things I never thought much about until I couldn’t do them anymore. In a recent conversation with Andy Krutsinger, a.k.a half of the best sports reporting team on planet Earth, we discussed the strange but glorious satisfaction of enjoying a meal at a fast food establishment’s dining room. It’s unassuming and there are no expectations to dress, or even act, in a certain way. You can just be as you are but also surround yourself with other people in a public space.

If I’m being honest, nothing has changed too drastically for me since the outbreak has occurred. Even before all of this, I spent a majority of my time alone in my apartment, alone at the park, alone in my car. But there’s something about being by myself among other people that makes it slightly less unbearable (not that being alone, in itself, is terrible — it can be wonderful too, it’s just beginning to get a little grating in this moment). There are hashtags populating social media pages, like #alonetogether, to remind us we don’t have to feel isolated as we slowly wade our way through this thing. But right now, it feels like we’re all just alone.

It’s not lost on me that this column is an example of immense privilege. I have the time to sit and think and write about the things I miss. Others are not afforded that luxury. Other people are fighting for their lives; other people are getting updates on gravely ill relatives through FaceTime; other people are having to watch patients succumb to this terrible virus that has taken over our world. We owe it to all those people to keep being careful and giving up some of the things we usually enjoy.

The one thing that has been bringing me some solace during this time is taking walks. For me, a perfect walk begins about half an hour before sunset. It’s just the right amount of time for me to do my usual 2-mile trek around my neighborhood and get home before it actually gets dark out.

Sunset is my favorite time of day — I get to watch the sky morph from its regular bluish hue to a bright orange and then back to a dark magenta. It’s a nice reminder that the world can also change quickly and drastically in beautiful ways. Just as this pandemic has made me more aware of activities I’m missing out on, it’s reminded me of things that are always there and available to me that I often take for granted.

As I finish my walks, I also like to stand in my apartment complex’s parking lot to watch the sun disappear behind the horizon. We made it. Another day done, another day forward. Some are slower and more difficult than others, but they too come to a conclusion at some point. And just as each day has an end, so does this strange and crazy time we’re living through — I remind myself of that often.