I sat down a few days ago to really think through everything happening in the world right now, to assess my feelings and my emotions and just to think. The rain was pouring outside as I watched through the windows in my dining room to the street, empty of people but so vibrantly green. If you’ve never experienced Oregon in the Spring or Summer, it’s very very green to say the least. My cousin, who’s from Texas, once remarked upon her yearly trips to visit family here in the Pacific Northwest that even though she visited every Summer, Oregon and Washington are so vibrantly green this time of the year that to outsiders, it’s often a little overwhelming when you’re not used to that. And so, just like now, the world outside my windows is overwhelmingly green. New life is all around, new flowers popping up every day. And yet, at the same time, while one facet of the world is filled with new life all around us, in other facets, so many of us are feeling completely empty, lost, scared.
It’s a rare thing to say that you’ve lived through a pandemic. In the world’s history, only a handful of generations can say that. And for many of us, looking back years from now, we’ll tell stories of this time, that time the world stood still. We’ll remember all sorts of things about this time but we’ll all remember it differently. As united as we are in this pandemic, in something that is affecting the entire planet, we’re all experiencing it completely uniquely within the frame of our lives.
I vividly remember an evening in mid-March after reading a story about Italy in those first few terrifying weeks as the virus made its way through Europe. The story was talking about how doctors were making war-time decisions, on who dies and who gets treated because they couldn’t treat everyone. That thought stood out to me, like wow, this is really happening. I remember thinking to myself then that I knew everything was going to change. It was the moment that all of this felt real, that it took over everything else in our lives.
I’ll also remember the death toll rising, those numbers seemed so surreal as thousands started dying everyday, most of them so tragically alone. I’ll remember the morning I got the email that I was furloughed. Thankfully, I’m back working now but daily, I have such deep emotions for the millions of people that are still out of work, can’t afford to feed their families and are in dire straights. I’ll remember as the masses donned masks, a reality that feels like it began overnight. I’ll remember washing my hands over and over when I return from the grocery store, feeling like being over-cautious still doesn’t seem like enough to wipe the thought out of your mind that the person that got a little too close to you might have infected you. I’ll remember as stores started installing plexiglass screens and one way markers on the grocery store aisles. I’ll remember the chaotic searches for toilet paper and Clorox cleaning supplies and flour and yeast. I’ll never forget the Zoom dinner dates with friends and needing to stop watching the news in an effort to regain some sense of a normal frame of mind. I’ll remember the uncertainty, the canceled trips, the unknowns about our future. I’ll remember realizing that our world is going to change, for better or for worse. I’ll remember the way my State handled this and how proud I’ve been to call myself an Oregonian. I’ll never forget wiping down every package that gets delivered and cooking for 70 plus days in a row. I’ll remember the way that we suddenly realized how important certain people in our society are, the grocery store clerks and stockers, the nurses and doctors, the people cleaning our public spaces, the delivery people bringing us all our packages. I’ll remember the anxiety attacks, the stress, the heartache of loss.
As we look back on this strange time in the world, I think we’ll always have anxiety that we know was produced by COVID. I think our outlook will change, mine will at least and already has. I think the way our society runs will change, I hope so at least. I think the world will be irreparably different after this. I think travel will be different. I think eating out at restaurants and how we shop for food will be different. This virus isn’t going away and even after a vaccine is developed, if it works, it’s going to take years to make sure the world is inoculated and protected. This isn’t going to be fixed quickly and as much as I would like to jump back in to a full life like so many of you want to as well, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that we must adapt. We must change, as hard as it may be. I know I won’t be traveling for a while, something that fulfills me, something that was a major part of my life and I’m wrangling with that development. Life and work won’t be the same as they were before this, but maybe that’s not the worst thing. Change is a constant in our lives even as much as we fight it. And personally, I’m trying to use this time, this pause in the world, to re-evaluate what I want out of life. I’m using this time to realize my own flaws and what’s really important going forward.
I hope that we look back on this pandemic in five or ten years and know that we became better people out of it. I hope that we become a better country out of this and a better world. I hope we shine the spotlight on the things that aren’t working in our societies and fix them. I hope we realize that the loudest voices aren’t always the most important. I hope we remember the people that got us through this, that we remember what it felt like to feel the pain of loss, to feel the anxiety of unknowns. I hope that we learn who we are through this, that we move forward when we are able with a clearer vision of the world we want to create. I hope we see what works and what doesn’t, and I hope that as a society, as a world, we remember the things we felt when the world stood still.