In my youth, that was the question that a beloved uncle would always ask the younger members of the family. The only problem was that his heavy German accent would make us laugh, quite apart from the fact that, frivolous young people that we were, we were not in the habit of making plans about our future. We were at school and were simply continuing along the path that had been laid out for us by society, never really thinking about the future.
Today that’s one question that is well-nigh impossible to answer. In the current situation of uncertainty it’s virtually out of the question to make any plans for either the near or the distant future. It’s a terrible blow for adults accustomed to being in charge of their lives, as well as for anyone wondering where to spend their next vacation, what to study at university, or which profession to pursue.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought a devastating combination of turmoil and uncertainty to many lives. There can be very few people on the planet who are untouched by some aspect of it, even if by some lucky chance they are still able to earn a living, although this is not the case for most people since almost all economic activity has come to a stop. Older people like myself, especially those with underlying illnesses, began to avoid going outside even earlier. I, for example, haven’t left my house for a month other than to potter about a bit in my garden.
The change in lifestyle hasn’t been so radical for those of us who are in retirement, even a relatively active one. Attending classes and lectures is something that used to break the routine, since we no longer had a place of work to go to, but it was not a hard-and-fast duty, more of a social and intellectual diversion. The same goes for attending concerts, plays, or other cultural events. I personally miss the occasional thrill of putting on nice clothes and going out to attend a performance of some kind, but one soon learns to live without it. There are plenty of musical and dramatic performance on TV and the internet, as well as the constant musical background provided by the radio, so that we are not totally deprived of intellectual stimulation and the music we love. It goes without saying that the digital world is full of a wide range of entertainment and educational content. It also enables us to remain in contact with friends and family.
But the question remains – what lies ahead? How long will we remain cooped up in our houses (some of us less ‘cooped’ than others)? And what will the world look like when all ‘this’ is finally over? I don’t share the view of some people, namely, that things will go back to being just as they were before. In fact, that’s hardly likely to happen given the economic upheaval that most countries – Israel included – have undergone, and the heavy financial burden that governments and individuals are having to bear.
For a start, I’m convinced that the period of lockdown will lead to the breakdown of many marriages and relationships, that many people’s mental stability will be undermined, and that many features of the social fabric that bound our society beforehand will wither and die. People will have become more accustomed to the solitary life and feel less need of social interaction.
I imagine that the double whammy of the prolonged enforced closure of cafés and restaurants and financial hardship on all sides will prevent many such enterprises from opening their doors again. Not all those people who have lost their jobs will find employment again, and the general level of prosperity in society will be far lower than it has been in the recent past, leading to a lower standard of living for everyone.
Maybe, if we’re lucky, people will be kinder and gentler towards one another once the crisis is over. However, if human nature is anything to go by, the dog-eats-dog attitude will rise to the surface, competition for assets, jobs, even food, will be fierce and any return to the normality we once knew will be a long way down the road.
As for plans, it’s best to remind ourselves of the old adage ‘man proposes and God disposes.’ Whatever plans we had have probably gone awry (I know mine have), and there’s little point in wasting time and energy thinking about the future.
But we humans are social beings and our minds are adaptable. We will get used to the ‘new normal’ that lies ahead, and perhaps the best thing to do now is to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to confront a different world from the one we have known till now.