The future is unknown except for one brutal fact: it is divorced from the past. Yet there has usually been a continuum from the distant past to the more recent past, and from a few weeks ago to yesterday.
In our current world, we are dealing with a new ball game. And because it is tragic, it has dawned on us that the joys we have had, the mysterious mechanisms that lift our spirits, are potentially gone forever. Or if they return to us they will be in new forms, potentially not as wonderful.
As the chart above makes clear, there is a pattern to any grief cycle. And in reference to the pandemic, if you are like me, the first stage might have been something like, “Oh this is just a different kind of flu but its still a flu. Whats the big deal!” Then the second stage was on the order of, “How come we weren’t more prepared?&^%$#” “We still subsidize oil companies yet doctors and nurses don’t have the protection they need? WTF!%$^#@”
As the number of cases increased around the world and the stories started to surface of the seriousness of people in advanced stages of the disease, our moods shifted into feelings of helplessness and depression. “Even if I wear a mask and wash my hands 100 times I can’t reduce the risk to zero!” “I just coughed. Does that mean I’m getting the coronavirus?”
The Bargaining stage includes the desire to reach out, to remotely chat with lost friends and distant relatives, as well as virtually huddle and cuddle around our loved ones. “We are in this together!” “If this pandemic doesn’t build character I don’t know what will.”
I’m not quite sure we are at the Acceptance stage of the grief cycle, as there are too many unknowns to even figure out what the new normal is going to look like.
As far as the world of travel goes, it may seem like we are not even at the Bargaining stage (see above chart). What will travel look like in 2 or 4 months? Will we have hotel disinfectant ratings that are scrutinized the way we currently approach accommodation reviews?
Or will we find new types of freedom that seize us in ways that are too hard to even define?
It’s too early to tell. But it would be wise to consider these words from the great travel writer Paul Theroux:
most travel is a reminder of boundaries and limits. For example, millions of travelers go to Bangkok or Los Cabos, but of them, a great number head for a posh hotel and rarely leave: The hotel is the destination, not the city. The same can be said for many other places, where the guest in the resort or spa — essentially a gated and guarded palace — luxuriates in splendid isolation.
The most enlightening trips I’ve taken have been the riskiest, the most crisis-ridden, in countries gripped by turmoil, enlarging my vision, offering glimpses of the future elsewhere. We are living in just such a moment of risk; and it is global. This crisis makes me want to light out for the territory ahead of the rest.
Yes, we can imagine that when the restrictions are lifted it will feel like being released from a cage. And if we take Theroux’s advice we will try to enlarge our vision, to perhaps see an interdependent world where our differences are celebrated and our freedoms are cherished.