Curtain Lifting

Starting today, small shops will start opening. With a few small, tentative, and cautious steps, people will start moving around out of their homes. Over the last 48 hours we have seen more people with their rolling luggage clacking on the calçada. (Tourists??!! I thought the borders were still closed! Who are these people??)

The last store that closed before the lockdown is the first one to open on our street — a tacky tourist trinket shop that sells a vast array of useless junk, including cork postcards and made-in-China tile magnets.

There is already a lot more car traffic — and the delirious honking that the Portuguese seem to love.

We collectively inhale and hold our breath. We will wait, and watch the dashboards, to see if there is an increase of disease, or death. In all likelihood, that will occur. The question is whether health care facilities will be able to manage.

In a couple more weeks, if all goes well, more businesses will open. Then more. We will watch as the curtain slowly lifts.

From my perch above a major thoroughfare, I’m already dreading it. The noise. The traffic. The crowds. I worry that the last 50+ days of lockdown — the blessed quiet — will force the pendulum to swing hard the other way. In a desperate need to revive economies and “get back to work” will we see an even worse scenario than the one we left?

Will over-tourism pick up (we really don’t need any more drunken stag and hen parties here) with its high carbon footprint, courtesy of discount airlines, or displaced local residents, courtesy of short-term rentals?

Will we recognize that we have more than we need, and appreciate a simpler life? Or will we buy more useless crap to ease our anxiety or fill a hole in our soul that we’re afraid to study?

Will we emerge kinder, recognizing our common and interdependent humanity? Or will we be so desperate and afraid that we will scratch at anyone who seemingly stands in the way of our recovery?

Will we be more human-centered, collectively and individually? Will cities prioritize spaces for people vs. vehicles? Will airlines treat passengers as human beings rather than cargo?

Will we prioritize our shopping at local neighborhood shops and limit the enrichment of the richest man on Earth?

Will we be more discerning about the source of our food, choosing local, seasonal and fresh over processed, cheap and industrial? I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a pork chop grown by a farmer who lives a few hours away over a bunch of tomatoes in December, flown in from South America.

These last two months have provided individuals and societies an opportunity to reconsider normal, to recognize the desperate and devastating insanity of the “old normal.”

There is still time, even as society re-opens and shifts toward recovery. It’s in the hundreds of decisions we make every day, and in what we demand from our governments, our business leaders, and “titans of industry.”

There is still time to set the stage for a second act.

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