Thoughts on My Pandemic Year

A few things I’ve learned since Covid-19 changed everything

An old-fashioned windmill standing out starkly against a dark background.

In March 2020, my friend and I texted about how he was sick. He had a cold or the flu. I didn’t want to let myself think it could be Covid-19. He had been feeling a little better in the last few days, he said.

He was 52 and otherwise healthy. I was sure he would get better. I had been sick myself with the flu in February and gotten better. I couldn’t imagine any other outcome. I was naïve.

Soon he would check himself into the hospital, and in April, he died of Covid-19 complications. The world lost him forever in the first terrible wave of the pandemic, before we knew much about what we were fighting, how bad it would be, or how long it would last.

I’ve thought many times since then about what if, while he was still at home, I had brought him the soup or cough medicine that would magically cure him. What if I had been able to swim out to sea, save him from the wave, and pull him back to shore? The feeling that I let him down — however irrational it might be — lingers.

Losing a friend so early in the pandemic made the risks and consequences of Covid-19 immediate. I’ve watched with dread as the number of Covid-19 deaths have grown to unimaginable levels. While some have claimed that the pandemic isn’t real and that dying of Covid is so unlikely that it’s not worth worrying about, I’ve known that the truth is the opposite — it’s very real, and the effects on people are frighteningly unpredictable.

I’ve done my best, even though I haven’t always been perfect, to stay away from other people and avoid either catching or spreading the virus myself. I’ve been lucky and thankful to have a job that allows me to stay home, in safety, unlike so many others.

I’ve learned that life can change quickly and drastically.

I’ve gone from someone who wouldn’t think of wearing a mask to prevent illness, in pre-Covid-19 times, to someone who wears one every time I leave the house.

I used to sit shoulder to shoulder with other commuters on crowded buses and trains as a normal part of life. Now, I don’t know if or when I would be willing to do that again. Beyond having a healthy personal space bubble, I rarely thought of whether I was standing too close to people. Now, six feet or more is my distance.

I thought I would be living a life of commuting to work a few times a week in an office building in a busy city. That didn’t happen. Instead, I haven’t commuted at all, and my work station has been my living room or my dining room. I finally bought myself a desk. I thought I would be working out in a gym several times a week. Instead, I found a couple-mile loop outside where I can walk or run.

Being prepared is more important to me now.

Before, I usually kept about a week’s worth of food, because that’s what I needed. I went shopping every week and that was good enough. I didn’t keep extra stock of toilet paper — why bother? It was everywhere. I could have bought an N95 mask at any time, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t know what they were. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to think of a reason why I would ever need one.

After the grocery store rush in spring 2020, with bare shelves and no toilet paper or paper towels to be found, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t scramble again. I now keep a store of a week or two of food beyond my immediate needs. I don’t wait to shop until the fridge and cupboards are bare. I’ve been building up an emergency fund in case of job loss or unexpected expenses. These are things I should have been doing anyway, because they’re just common sense.

I try to appreciate anything good that has come out of this.

It seems trite, but the view of the tree outside my living room window is more important to me than it would have been in the past. I’ve been going outside more. I’ve made walking and hiking more of a priority. I’ve asked myself what I really enjoy in life and whether I’m doing those things. It doesn’t mean I know how to seamlessly fit everything into my life. But at least I’m trying to ask the questions.

I would gladly give up anything good that has come from this time if it meant that we could undo everything and have our loved ones back.

I don’t think that getting back to normal should mean neglecting to process our losses.

Now that more people are getting vaccinated, we’re talking about going back to normal. I understand it. I’d like to be rid of the awful fear that a family member is going to get Covid-19. I’d like more freedom and the ability to go to a movie or a restaurant again. If I had a business, I would want to reopen as soon as safely possible.

At the same time, I don’t want us to rush forward and forget the 530,000+ lost to Covid-19 (as of today). For them and for their families, friends, and communities, there is no going back to normal.

I hope we take the time to honor and memorialize them, analyze what went wrong and what we could have done differently, and make sure we’re more prepared for the next pandemic.

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