What Will We Remember When the Monotony Is Over?

2020 on crinkled paper
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s fitting that this year 2020 is the same number, repeated in a pattern. Two-oh-two-oh. Twenty-twenty.

2020 on crinkled paper
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

For many of us, this has been the rule since March of 2020–the same thing, repeated in a pattern.

As I write this, many states are contemplating lockdown. Again. Yesterday, I went to  Costco for the first time since early in the pandemic. I went to stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, and antibacterial wipes–just in case ours becomes one of the lockdown states.

As I ambled through the aisles, I remembered the last time I was there. No one was wearing a mask, and the checkout line was bumper-to-bumper to the back of the store. Many staples were out of stock. We didn’t know what we didn’t know back then.

Now that’s still largely true but thankfully, we know a little bit more.

We know a vaccine is on its way, although many don’t trust it.

We know that masks seem to help, although many resist wearing them.

We know that few super-spreader events are linked to schools, planes and air travel, or businesses, although many still avoid these places.

As of this writing, states continue to reintroduce or consider lockdowns of businesses in response to rising COVID cases along with schools and houses of worship. This, despite the relatively few instances of super-spreader events at any of these places.

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine maintains a database of global super-spreader events. Examining their spreadsheet, I took a look at 350+ such instances in the US since the end of March:

  • Only 7 took place at bars (1 of them was hosting a wedding)
  • 1 was at a gym
  • 3 stemmed from grocery stores or markets
  • 2 came from bakeries
  • 2 were traced back to restaurants (1 of which, again, was the site of a wedding)
  • 3 retail sites or shops
  • 1 religious event (a ministers’ conference)
restaurant sign with Closed Until Further Notice on front
Photo by Andrew Winkler on Unsplash

Yet these are exactly the places that lockdowns and shutdowns impact most. Indeed, I got a text from my mother describing the outdoor Mass she just attended. Their area just plunged back into some restrictions that push gyms, restaurants, and certain types of events outside.

I saw a restaurant in my town recently, open for business, as our county allows.

On the window, there was a large, colorful drawing of a teddy bear. It was leftover from the socially-distanced scavenger hunt that our downtown businesses participated in earlier in the year. Families were encouraged to spot as many of the bears as they could to get out and do something fun while staying safe. On this particular display, the hashtag we were to use when posting bear hunt pictures was smudged almost beyond legibility.

This was, I thought, a hopeful sign that we might one day relegate things like the bear hunt to memories of a distant, tragic time. At the same time, its continued presence on the window spoke to the uncertainty that it might be needed again.

The current national sense of looming disaster and devastation feels familiar. So much of this year has felt monotonous to many Americans. Now is the apparent and likely return of something worse.

We have the feeling in the pit of our stomachs at the top of the roller coaster. Our hands are tightening on the bar, and our heels dig into the floor. We want to get off the ride, but we know the pause is just that–a pause before the breathtaking plunge.

So what do we do?

Many of us don’t know who to trust or where to turn. The one thing we know for an absolute fact is that authorities will continue to change their guidance, and our elected officials will let us down.

The only thing we can control is the little things we do every day.

We can get out of bed every morning and love those closest to us.

We can be patient with them.

If you have a spirituality or faith, cling more tightly to it, or whatever gives you peace. 

children with masks and backpacks
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We don’t know when the ride will stop or when we will be able to disembark–dizzy, perhaps slightly nauseated, readjusting our eyes and our equilibrium to our new, more stable reality. But it will stop and when it does, we’ll have to account for the people we were during the pandemic.

Our children will carry the memories of our conduct with them in their reminiscences of this historic time. They’ll describe their parents to your grandchildren when they interview them for school projects on the 2020 pandemic.

Who do you want to be when everything stops spinning?