The Pandemic Life Without a Box of Chocolates

As we say goodbye to the summer holidays and get ready to send our kids back to school, during this pandemic, it is hard not to mourn the way things were before the pandemic.

This time last year I was on a plane returning home from Switzerland. As always, I stopped at one of the Duty Free stores at Zürich airport to pick up boxes of chocolates for family and friends. I did this routinely when I flew back home after a business trip, which occurred typically twice a month. As a frequent traveler this translated to countless boxes of chocolates from all over the world: Brussels, London, Madrid, San Francisco, Lima, and more. No matter where I traveled, I would make a quick pit stop at the duty-free store before boarding the plane, picking up at least one box of chocolates.

So it was that we were never without a box of chocolates at home. I could reach into the pantry and never know what I was going to come up with. Sometimes it was assortment, from Godiva or Neuhaus or Lindt, at others it was a bar from Cadbury or Toblerone, San Francisco’s famous Ghiradelli, or See’s candies. It didn’t matter. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, life was like a box of chocolates and I never knew what I was going to get. But it always was filled with pleasant surprises.

COVID-19 changed everything. Like everyone I know, I have been homebound, under lockdown. It has been six months since I set foot in an airport or a duty-free store.

Last week, like I normally do, I reached into the pantry and, for the first time in many years, came up empty. There was not a single box of chocolates in there. Surprise, surprise. No, it is not the end of the world. There are worse things in life than not having a box of chocolates. But it was the end of a way of life as we knew it. And in that instant, I realized how much had changed, changed perhaps forever.

As an optimist I always see the silver linings and the glass as half full. But as we close out the summer season and get back to school in these surreal times, I do mourn the loss of normalcy, the humdrum life, the water cooler conversations, small talk about the weather, and mindless TV shows. Yes, it was boring, and somewhat predictable. But it was normal.

As I think about what has happened to our normal life, I am reminded of my trip three years ago to Italy, and a day spent at Pompeii, touring a lost civilization laid low by Mount Vesuvius and buried in its ashes, frozen in time.

Today, as we are blanketed by the threat of the coronavirus, our way of life, the way things were, are also frozen in time. The pandemic is here to stay, and as I think about those forgotten times I take solace in the strength of the human spirit, and the power of science and technology to end this pandemic. Someday we will look back to the summer of 2020 as a strange and surreal period when we took time to reflect and understand our foibles and learn how, as human beings, we are fragile and dependent on each other.

Let’s hope for a summer of 2021 when we will be flying again, celebrating together physically, and rushing through crowded airports to make a quick stop at the duty-free store to buy a box of chocolates.