Sometime in late March, yesterday’s inertia ceased to dictate the path of the next day. I stopped flying on planes. Every in-person meeting on my calendar had been deleted. I went to bed with my emails answered.
This had happened before. Since graduating from Stanford GSB in 1987, I’d had a half-dozen life transitions. But this was different, because it happened to me and everyone I know at the same time. Perfectly synchronized, we woke to less wealth and more time. We’d been told “you can’t buy time.” Turns out we just had.
Soon enough, my wife, Wendy, and I ran out of uses for this newly purchased time. The closets were clean, the garage finally swept, the cat’s claws clipped, the desktop on my computer empty. Wendy said we needed to “change up the mix,” her polite way of pointing out that we had fully run out of new things to talk about.
As a solution, she suggested a Zoom date with friends. I emailed the idea to a Stanford GSB classmate, asking if he and his girlfriend had any time the following week. It turned out they were available any day, at any time. It used to take a month to find a date to get four people in a restaurant at the same time. Now all we had to do was throw a dart at the calendar.
The first night started out like most of the conversations I’d had with my classmate over the last 33 years: “How you doing? The kids are all good? Great to catch up.” It was hard not to glance at an incoming email while someone was talking. Old habits die slowly.
But afterward, Wendy and I noted that while Zoom wasn’t the same, the last time the four of us had actually eaten a meal together was … who knows? So we made plans to do it again.
Midway through our second call, we all grew bored of talking about COVID-19, and there was no reason to ask how the kids were doing — they were doing exactly the same as last week. The problem with seeing friends regularly is that you have to learn how to talk about real stuff.
Which made me remember how, growing up, our neighbors would sometimes just come over unannounced and we’d move to the backyard with our iced tea. That’s what is happening to me now, except instead of a knock on the door it comes in the form of a Zoom invite, and the iced tea is a little stronger.
In order to have more of these dates, my wife and I decided to keep Central Time. That way we’re hungry and thirsty at the appropriate time in any U.S. time zone. We take the saying “it’s five o’clock somewhere” literally.
Lately, six of us started playing cards on Thursdays, just like we did at Stanford GSB. The cards are merely an excuse to come together, and because we can’t completely figure out how the app works, at the end of a night we more or less estimate who owes what to whom. We’ve seen more of each other in the last two months than in the prior two years.
For me, the COVID-19 crisis has come at relatively low cost compared to the hardship felt by most. But that can’t change the fact that I was forced to exchange something I had chased for years with something I now find matters more. For that, I am thankful. Which explains why, after last week’s card game, instead of scheduling a single calendar event, I decided to create a recurring invite. And at the place to indicate an end date, I selected “never.
— David Dodson