Playing It By Ear

This title phrase is heard more and more these days.  

“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Where are you going on vacation?”
“Will you being taking the kids and folks with you?” and these recent past questions:
“What are your holiday plans?”
“Having any New Year’s parties this year?”
“Will you be exchanging gifts in person?”

The reply to many of these common questions is: “I’m not sure. We’re playing it by ear.”

Life is topsy turvy. Between COVID and the accompanying mask/no mask and vaccine/no vaccine situations, coupled with climate change and its resultant environmental disasters, lots of us are playing it by ear about making any kind of plans.

Life isn’t as clear cut as it was this time last year when we were all pretty much hunkered down, visiting on Zoom where we’d be presentable in our appearance, at least from the waist up. Some folks, especially those with young children, were venturing out in long-organized, pre-quarantined family gatherings. However, for the most part, elders – the most vulnerable population group – stayed home. And, even if we could get together, we couldn’t fly, and driving through unpredictable twisters, flash flooding, and wind storms strong enough to topple 16-wheelers has been too taxing for the average senior citizen.

That was then, this is now

This year, many of us have received both doses of the vaccine and a booster shot. At least that’s the assumption we’re making among our friends, but we’re not always asking before hugging. I heard about a gathering of four women recently who traveled in the same car to attend a fun lunch and right before they hugged goodbye, one of the women mentioned she’d chosen not to be vaccinated. Dead silence. “Want me to put my mask on?” she asked shyly. “Uh, yes!!” Yikes! We’re still far from being out of the woods in terms of corralling coronavirus. And, lesson learned? It never hurts to ask.

Going with the flow isn’t just about travel and socializing. For the first time ever, in my lifetime anyway, jobs are chasing workers, products are late or entirely unable to get to consumers, and gas prices, school schedules, and open vs. closed venues are all over the place. Just today, the mega-supermarket was completely out of half and half, right here where there are dozens of dairy farms. We’re forced to go with the flow because everything is ever-changing. Often, I’m searching for the latest mandates that are supposed to help me decide about when, where, and how we can get on with our lives. Last week we went to our Wednesday lunch restaurant, which is a large, multi-location franchise. It was closed because there wasn’t enough staff to keep it open.

Regardless if you characterize this year as bad or good or better than last year, it just is. And we’re stuck playing more by ear than ever before as a result. We have more choices in some areas compared to last year and perhaps more challenges relative to those choices. 

So, what will you do?

Personally, I don’t have a problem playing it by ear. I’ve been known to change my mind at the last moment, regardless of what commitments I made after playing it by ear. I’d say I’d be there and then, at the last moment, not feel like leaving my house or hanging with a bunch of strangers or even hanging with good friends and relatives. This last minute changing my mind is another factor I’m dealing with. Are you?

Every time I talk about making plans, it’s with the understanding that any situation or factor could make me reverse my decision. So, far, it hasn’t blown up in my face, but it has been costly. I have forfeited money spent on events not attended and day trips not taken. Hopefully I’ve not pissed off a friend or family member when I changed my mind.

Perhaps all this loose living is good for us. Perhaps as we age, we’re settling in too deep, too permanently. Perhaps playing it by ear more often will keep us on our toes longer. I haven’t been 100% successful in convincing myself of that.

How are you feeling about the tentative nature of the universe right now?