The Universal Notebook: Ch-ch-ch-changes for 2021

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We went to church on Christmas Eve. Between illness in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020, I hadn’t been to church but once or twice in the past two years. It was a pleasant, peaceful, reassuring experience, just what we needed for a Christmas without children and grandchildren.

There was no Christmas Eve service, no pageant, no carols, just the sanctuary, decorated with poinsettias, open on a limited basis. Our pastors and two deacons were there to greet us. Silently, we said our prayers, read the Christmas story in the Bible, and lit candles for friends we’ve lost.

I am eager for worship – indeed for life itself – to return to something like normal, but realistically I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon. Preventive measures are probably with us for the foreseeable future and some things will change permanently.   

We have done a lot of takeout to support local restaurants, but I am looking forward to the occasional meal in a diner or dining room. It’s hard to eat and drink with a mask on, so indoor dining may be a year or so away.

Businesses have discovered that many of their employees can work just as effectively from home, so the pandemic may result in companies rethinking their need for office space and workers rethinking their need for an office. A recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of employees working from home during the pandemic would rather not return to their office at all.

Another change in the real estate market is being driven by people from away fleeing to Maine from urban areas. Out-of-state buyers increased from 26 percent of the Maine housing market to 36 percent last year as home prices rose 20 percent. I have at least four out-of-state relatives who are talking about moving to Maine.

The consumer economy, of course, has been in transition for decades. Just as downtowns were replaced by malls, malls are now being replaced by online shopping. But the pandemic is driving e-commerce even higher: online shopping was up 36 percent in the U.S. and 45 percent globally for the first two weeks of December.

I confess I am guilty of doing too much of my Christmas shopping online. I bought locally at a few toy stores, but Amazon just makes it so cheap and convenient to shop online. How they manage to get a purchase to me the next day is beyond me.

When it comes to entertainment, like a lot of people, we’ve been binge-watching Netflix, but I’m afraid I have not been able to embrace live-streaming theater and concerts. Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my performing arts, like my sports, live and in person. 

The coronavirus first reared its ugly, spiked head during March Madness. I knew something was seriously wrong when the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team first canceled a playoff game and then the rest of what might have been a championship season. 

Come spring, it would be wonderful to have fans back in the stands, albeit masked and safely spaced. At the very least let’s hope that schools and colleges are able to resume “normal” operations soon.

For me, it would be enough in 2021 just to have friends and family over for dinner and to be able to attend church once in a while. On the other hand, there is a good chance I will never go to the movies or a concert again. There will be tough times ahead for any enterprise or activity that depends on attracting crowds.

Things have changed, and not for the better.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.