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Celebrations snatched away

A man is seen through the Olympic rings

A man is seen through the Olympic rings in front of the New National Stadium in Tokyo on Tuesday. IOC President Thomas Bach has agreed "100%" to a proposal of postponing the Tokyo Olympics for about one year until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday. Credit: AP/Jae C. Hong

Time is marked and enlivened by the special events that grace our communal calendar. They help us organize the year, and provide anticipation and excitement that is difficult to match or replace.

That’s true even in times like these, when our attention is riveted on a dangerous new virus threatening the globe. If anything, these events become even more important as each of us looks to the comforts of familiar rituals amid an unnerving death toll that marches steadily upward.

But that expectation has been shredded by the coronavirus, which last week claimed its biggest spectator spectacle yet when the Summer Olympics were postponed until 2021. A cultural touchstone, the Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic achievement and must-watch viewing for millions in the global community. Competing in them is the ultimate accomplishment for thousands of athletes, who sacrifice so much to get there. Their stories often are the stuff of inspiration. For some, that dream ended when the Tokyo Games were pushed back; they won’t be able to successfully qualify to compete the next time around. 

Emotions run high

Similar emotions were felt by the many local high school and college athletes about to compete in state or national championships that were abruptly shelved. For some, these competitions are steppingstones on the road to greater athletic glory. For others, they are the culmination of their sporting careers. These athletes worked hard, too, and their hurt is just as real. The same is true of the actors, actresses, singers and musicians whose plays, musicals and concerts were called off.

But the larger truth is that many among us are struggling in similar fashion. We might not be on the front lines of the fight, but we understand all too well what those Olympians are going through because each of us is experiencing the heartbreak and frustration of having special moments delayed or outright canceled by the virus or the policies for combating it.

We’ve lost weddings and birthday parties, graduations and retirement parties, bar mitzvahs and baptisms, Easter and Passover celebrations, and many other occasions that inject our lives with so much spirit, meaning and color. Some will be held later. Some will not. How do you compensate for the twirl not taken across the dance floor, the candles not blown out, the diploma not proudly cradled?

Isolated in our homes and apartments, separated from our families, both real and workplace, we crave the social contact that is our life-breath now more than ever. A celebration with loved ones would sure feel good. Because when times get tough, as they are now, we look to each other, and especially to those closest to us, for support. And we look to sports and the arts for escape — but virtually all of that also has been stripped away. Many of us don’t even have the comfort of organized religion to call on, with the suspension of so many services fracturing that fellowship.

No longer there

Whether it’s a first birthday party enjoyed by a handful of family members or the March Madness college basketball phenomenon that exhilarates tens of millions, these events help bond us together via the power of a shared experience. And when they’re taken away, life’s disappointments big and small take a toll on us.

The number of Americans who say that their emotional well-being worsened over the previous week increased by nearly half, from 29% to 43%, according to the most recent polling conducted last week by the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The good news is that humans are, if nothing else, resilient. We refuse to let our lives be dictated by the obstacles placed before us. We find ways to adapt. And that in itself is something to celebrate.

So bravo to the friends and families who are organizing caravans of cars to do drive-by birthday parties past the houses of children despondent over not being able to mark their special days. Mazel tov to everyone who is using our modern methods of communication to video-stream all sorts of celebrations, from weddings to parties of all themes and types to, yes, even funerals. It’s essential at this moment that we somehow maintain our rituals of grieving together for those we love. The nature of our shared experiences might be changing, but we still are sharing. 

As the days wear on, as the fears increase and the coronavirus crisis worsens with mounting casualties, it’s important that we continue to find new ways to mark old occasions, and let these virtual hugs suffice until we can wrap our arms around one another again for real.

 - The editorial board