Opinion: Missing the shared jokes, small talk, midday laughs of the office

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People wearing protective face masks stand on a nearly-empty platform
People wearing protective face masks stand on a nearly-empty platform as they wait for a subway train to arrive on Friday in New York.
John Minchillo | AP
A subway station in Midtown Manhattan is empty. The state of New York has issued a stay-at-home order as of Friday.
A subway station in Midtown Manhattan is empty. The state of New York has issued a stay-at-home order as of Friday.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

I miss work. I know as I say this that I'm blessed to have rewarding work as a lot of Americans suddenly don't. Working from home for most of the week has made me marvel at how much so many can do these days, on laptops and small screens.

But spending most of the workday in bedroom slippers, pondering whether to shave, shampoo or even brush my teeth — because after all, who'll see me besides my family? — also reminds me how much we can miss the walls, cubicles, hallways and, most of all, the people in our workplaces.

Those of us sheltered with our loved ones know we're lucky. But marriage vows after all are only "to love and to cherish, till death do us part," not hour after hour, day after day, no matter how many crumbs you might trail in from the kitchen all over the place.

I miss work. I miss the shared jokes, small talk and midday laughs. I miss the morning smiles and jokes in the elevator, which are not always elevated. I miss the security guard who shows me pictures of her cats and nephews. I miss the birthday cakes for our colleagues, the card smuggled from staffer to staffer to be signed, the pop of a cork and the off-key serenade of the birthday song (when it was a song, not a measure of hand-washing time).

I miss work. I miss the eye rolls and asides from the people around me, the comic gripes and moans, the occasional confidences and confessions. At NPR, we have work that may be more important to do than ever, and we're fortunate to have this job, especially as we report on how many Americans may soon lose theirs. But I miss the chortles and cackles of people who work together, rely on one another and learn how to make each other laugh.

We watch more news at home than ever. So many of the commercials that run between news stories look as if they're from a world that no longer exists. Millions of people locked down inside, while commercials still show people going places, buying things, high-fiving and hugging because they found a neat new toothpaste.

All the amazing things that can now be done remotely may just remind us how human beings are still really wired together by the actual proximity of companionship: the small, incidental notes of life that connect us in our work, the bright smiles that can light the grimmer corridors of life.

As Stephen Sondheim wrote, "It's the fragment, not the day. It's the pebble, not the stream ... That is happening."

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