I still remember, 50-odd years later, looking back and seeing my great-uncle Dick Lee (two first names were common on my grandmother's side) silhouetted on a rainy, windswept hillside beside the grave of his wife of 40-plus years, Teenie.
The service was over. Almost everyone had left. The few that remained talked quietly by their cars.
Up on the hill, Dick Lee stood motionless, staring at the coffin. Two workmen waited a respectful distance away. I could tell, even at 8 years old, they wanted to get on with the job.
"Why is Dick Lee still up there?" I asked my dad.
He didn't answer right away. As kids do, I asked again. Looking back, I realize he was trying to decide, as parents do, how much to say.
"Partly for her," he finally said. "I don't think he wants to leave her there alone. But also for him. I don't think he wants to have to say goodbye."
He squeezed my shoulder. "I think he just wishes that everything could go back to the way it was."
I think about that moment when people say, referring to Covid-19 and its impact on work and life, "When this is finally over." Or, "When things get back to normal." Or, "When things go back to the way they were."
That won't happen. Some things will "go back to the way they were."
Many will not. Nor do we want them to.
Take remote work. One by-product of imposed workforce distribution is that many bosses now realize presence was never a proxy for performance; that results, not hours worked, are what matter.
Plenty of people -- hopefully you're one of them -- now manage by outcomes and deliverables, not by monitoring "butts in seats."
Or take meetings. Slack and Zoom partly fill the in-person gap, but many bosses now realize just how ineffective most meetings were. (As with many things, just because you can doesn't mean you should.) Nor do they see full calendars, both their own and those of the people they lead, as a proxy for productivity.
Plenty of people -- hopefully you're one of them -- now see meetings as a tool to strategically deploy and not as a workday given.
Customer expectations have also changed. In many cases, what we receive has gained deservedly greater importance than how it is received. Tele-health care. Remote sales meetings. Remote product demos. Third-party support, service, and deliveries.
If I can't -- or don't want to -- visit your showroom, you don't need a fancy showroom. Which means you can better compete with all the deeper-pocketed companies that, at least once upon a time, could afford to spend money where it didn't truly touch the customer.
Many of those playing fields have become much more level; and if you're a scrappy, bootstrapping startup, you don't want things to go back to the way they were.
You want things to change -- because your willingness and ability to embrace and adapt to change is your competitive advantage.
My great-uncle's life changed. He didn't want it to. But it did -- for the worse, in all ways. There was nothing he could do about it.
Our lives have also changed, but at least some of those changes are, or can be, for the good.
Being forced to trust your employees, and then learning that you can trust them? That's a good thing. Being forced to measure and manage employee performance on the basis of productivity rather than presenteeism or other irrelevant proxies for performance? That's a good thing. Learning to better value the employees who not only get things done but get the right things done? That's a good thing. Being forced to interact with and serve customers on their terms rather than yours? That's a good thing.
One outcome of the pandemic is that it accelerated, to a major degree, a broad range of existing societal and economic dynamics: e-commerce, online education, distributed workforces, remote health care, etc.
Pandemic or not, change is inevitable. We can wish things would go back to "normal," but they won't.
And that's OK.
I'm not downplaying the obvious downsides. Some are significant. Some seem almost crushing.
No matter how painful, though, looking back doesn't help. You can't always control what happens to you.
But you can control how you respond -- and whether you decide to look for and take advantage of the opportunities that inevitably surface when things change.
Because things will always change.
And opportunities will always follow.