Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Pandemic reminder: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got …’

Though I’ve liked this year’s distanced conventions, I couldn’t help but think about so many other facets of our lives in which we might not have known what we had (much less appreciated) until a deadly virus sent them gone.

Balloons dropping at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
Balloons dropping at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
REUTERS/Scott Audette

During this Life in a Time of Pandemic, with many staying home because of lost jobs, fearfully going to jobs deemed essential because of the essential need to earn money, worrying about whether to send kids to school, or frantically hoping hospitals might allow goodbyes to dying relatives, I’ve wondered if people have thought of the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi.” Specifically, the verses of “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

I’ve thought about these words quite a bit these past six months, as I’ve been dang lucky enough thus far to not have many worries and to be able to dream about pleasant things like going to movie theaters. And maybe even watching national political conventions. Maybe.

As one who served as a political appointee in the Clinton administration, I’ve always watched the balloon-soaked blowouts that dominate television every four years. Even though I wasn’t alive when a convention last provided real candidate selection suspense, I still watch conventions, if only to see how stupid or intelligent each major party thinks their base, or the whole of the American populace, is.

No economic benefits, but some pluses

This year’s conventions, with their reliance on virus prevention distance, no costumed delegates and little awkward live applause for speakers who can’t command a crowd despite other skills/resources, have actually shown me that I didn’t know what I had regarding these events until the old way of doing them went away. Of course, a virtual event doesn’t deliver most of the economic benefits a city can derive from hosting a convention. And that’s an enormous loss. Although it still delivers speakers who don’t belong anywhere near television cameras. But without the deafening arena noise and that really awkward applause, I found I’ve been learning more this year about what each party might be trying to achieve, in scripted television land and in the ballot count. I don’t think I was alone in thinking this way. And I’m adding my name to the list of Republicans and Democrats who thought the way the Democrats did the nominating roll call, with its Flight Across America and its Mostly Ordinary Citizens, should become the norm for every party. No matter how much bigwigs from West Something or New Other want to pack a microphone to scream the counts and the state’s agricultural prowess.

Article continues after advertisement

Still, though I have liked this year’s distanced, recorded conventions, I couldn’t help but think about so many other facets of our lives in which we might not have known what we had (much less appreciated) until a deadly virus sent them gone. Or vastly changed. Things we might want back and others we can leave behind or modify, as we did the conventions. For instance, things that might be better done for some in pandemic-influenced style, such as working from home for those who can, far from cities with high living costs. Things such as the aforementioned movie theaters when a must-see alien invasion film hits, even though movies-on-demand with homemade popcorn may be cheaper and more suited to the wearing of pajamas.

Missing restaurants, vacations …

Then there are things like bustling restaurants, where people such as my 88-year-old mother (who already didn’t get out too much pre-pandemic) could chat with favorite servers and fellow diners about blueberry pancakes and overly strict adult children. I think about people who, Before Coronavirus, were best kept as acquaintances or even frenemies. Distanced times have nixed those forced lunches and may just keep such encounters confined to Facebook. But then there are the people we really want to see, in cyberspace if we must, but in person if we can manage it. As my mother’s overly strict full-time caregiver, I counted the days these past several years until my brother arrived to provide one week of what my mother called “vacation” care so I could go to Ottawa to see honorary nieces and their parents who are generous hosts providing ample supplies of fine Canadian food and drink and bemusement of my American peculiarities.

photo of article author
Photo by Aaron Fahrmann
Mary Stanik
I feel guilty for missing this year’s break when so many are worried about staying healthy or putting food on the table. But I admit I miss it all the same. Personal contact, whether delivered in a theater, restaurant, a real department store at the holidays, or the home of friends, is something I don’t think most of us want to see go totally and permanently virtual.

And on the matter of missing personal contact, this Milwaukee native who likes a virtual convention was nevertheless heartbroken to see my hometown lose an opportunity during the Democratic National Convention to show the nation it offers much more than the Fonz or the Kuh-Napp Street of “Laverne and Shirley” fame. When you feel safe to travel again and indulge in real personal contact, go to Milwaukee’s Mazos’ Hamburgers, owned by a high school classmate of mine. It’s nearly as famous as Milwaukee’s beer, motorcycles, or even its renowned Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee County Zoo.

May all of us soon get back much of what is now gone and which we miss. Whether we knew it gone or not. Whether we will appreciate it once we have it back or not.

That includes traditional political conventions.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, recently moved from St. Paul to Arizona. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)