The After Party: Life Interrupted

As a virus wreaks havoc on our lives, moments can matter in spite of the circumstances. All you have to do is … pivot!
Writer: Lisa Kelley

COVID Day 1: And just like that, the state is closed. Closed for business, worship, entertainment, play and education. My husband races to his restaurants to begin the shutdown and minimize his losses. He is in full crisis management and survival mode while I am energized by the permission to clear my calendar for a few weeks and focus on cooking for health and wellness. The juxtaposition is not lost on me.
COVID Day 4: I am in the food truck and it feels like a snow day, only with clear roads and beautiful weather. Through my window I see people everywhere — walking dogs, riding bikes, playing on the playground, or just sitting and enjoying the river views. I see people connecting and playing in a way I usually don’t see at lunchtime on a Thursday. I know this virus is wreaking havoc in the rest of the world, but from the view out of my window on this day it looks healthy, connected and joyful.
COVID Day 7: The reality of shutting down is settling in on me as I field calls from worried clients to begin canceling and rescheduling their events. This is not a snow day. The impact of what we just stepped into is massive and overwhelming as I check in with my vendors and get recorded messages that they are closed. It is devastating.
COVID Day 14: I attend a Zoom birthday party. I am insanely uncomfortable sitting alone in my dining room drinking wine while trying to engage with my friends on a computer screen. I can’t see everyone and the conversation feels forced. I get it for business meetings, but the magic of a social gathering just doesn’t translate for me. While desperately trying to feel connected, it feels deeply disconnected. I sign off feeling robbed of a moment I had been looking forward to for a long time. “Social” and “distance” are not words that are meant to be together in the same sentence. COVID sucks.
COVID Day 20: “Pivot” has become the new business strategy buzzword. I am inspired and encouraged by the creativity all around me. Salt Cycle Studio delivers spin bikes to their clients and offers classes on Instagram. Root SUP & Fitness launches a cooking show and highlight easy and healthy meals. Our own restaurants have rewritten menus to work in meal kits, the food truck and carryout. Some businesses take the opportunity to shut down and do much-needed repairs and upgrades that would never be possible while open for business.
The survival instinct has taken over and people are figuring it out. How long will it take before creativity and ingenuity are not enough for survival and we just can’t make it?
They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. People are talking about New Normal. Again, two words that do not belong in the same sentence. I hope my husband’s New Normal is not worry, stress and sleepless nights.
COVID Day 47: For the second time since March, I am rescheduling events because New Normal means that we will not be able to gather in groups for an indefinite period of time. For the 10th time since March, I attend a Zoom party. I still don’t like it. It still feels like we are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. For the 47th time since March, my husband pivots his business because if he doesn’t keep trying to help it survive, it will die. I turn on the news and realize that feeling is collective. The world feels like it is pivoting.
Years ago, I ran a marathon in Tupelo, Mississippi. In August. I remember waiting at the start and looking around at a very diverse group of people. The winner and loser were in the group, young and old were in the group. Every shade of skin color was in the group. Despite all of our differences two things were true and present in all of our minds. 1. We planned to finish the race. 2. We were hot. I was buoyed by the connection of that moment. I was one necessary piece of a whole. It got me across the finish line.
COVID Day 109: I am getting ready for yet another Zoom party. This time it is a birthday party for a 1-year-old. Yesterday, I received a box with instructions to open when I log on. This is an interesting twist and I am intrigued. At my assigned time, I open the box. The theme is “The Pout-Pout Fish” which is a children’s book I am not familiar with.
The box is beautifully set up in shades of blue and aqua with perfectly placed sweets and party favors. There are pre-mixed specialty cocktails and a themed word search game and bingo card. I put on my party hat, blow up the provided balloons and dial in. The hosts and birthday girl are sitting in front of a beautiful background and instructing guests to start their word search.
I sip my cocktail and begin the game. All of the guests banter back and forth about the crazy words we are searching for. We are all searching for the same words and just like that, I feel connected. The first to finish wins a framed piece of the birthday girl’s artwork. It is brilliant. I wish I won it. I want a memento of this moment.
We are interrupted by a surprise. The hosts arranged for the author of the “The Pout-Pout Fish” to join the call and read the book. It took my breath away. After the story, we watched Catherine smash a beautiful cake in the shape of a fish and then we played bingo. An hour later I logged off. My face was sore from a sustained smile.
So, this is what pivot means.
It means that moments can matter in spite of the circumstances. It means we can stop entertaining the old way and re-invent connection in a way that makes our guests feel supported, healthy and connected. COVID still sucks. But we can do this. •
Lisa Kelley, a local event planner and owner of Canards Catering & Event Production, lives in Leonardtown.