coronavirus: in retrospect

I hesitate as I write this because, if you’re anything like me, you’re tired of hearing about COVID-19. I get it. But hear me out. I wanted to have a record to look back on years from now when we are (hopefully) in a better place.

I was presented the opportunity to cover the virus in our local newspaper before it was even really a thing. It was February and we had only heard tid bits about the virus’ presence in other countries. I don’t remember paying it much mind. The article, however, caused me to shutter, as a local family was trapped on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The hysteria was only just beginning in other countries and ports at all the cruise ship’s scheduled stops denied them entry. There were no positive cases on board; rather, the hysteria stemmed from the steady rise in confirmed cases and deaths resulting from the virus, including 26 confirmed cases and one death in Hong Kong, the original departure point.

A phone interview with the family provided an inside glimpse at what they were feeling at the time. Naturally, the situation was nerve-wracking and what was intended to be a pleasant, family vacation ended up a nightmare. While I was shocked at the seriousness of the situation, I never thought about the potential for this virus to reach the United States, let alone affect me on a personal level.

Within months, schools closed. A two week ‘academic pause’ turned into a lengthy hiatus. Prom was stolen from seniors, as were most graduation ceremonies, open houses, and sporting events.

Parents were forced to rearrange work schedules, if they weren’t laid off due to the wide-spread closure of businesses.

And then positive cases of COVID-19 began sprouting up across the U.S. Some blamed media outlets for fear mongering, while others worried the virus was being taken too lightly. The crack down the middle of the nation’s people became all too evident during the coming months.

Summer was lacking, to say the least. There were no concerts, fairs, or gatherings. Even the local Fourth of July parade, typically beaming with people donning red, white, and blue, was amiss. Even the parks were closed. Suddenly yellow caution tape was strewn across slides and swings that once supported laughing children yelling, “Mommy, watch me!”.

At least we had the warmth of the sun, the refreshing lake waters, camping and campfires, and kayaking. There was a light at the end of the tunnel – it was only to be for a few weeks, until the numbers of positive cases decreased.

We had no idea that before the summer ended, many of us would be under a state-wide shut down and a mask mandate. The night life that once consisted of bustling streets, brightly lit fast food signs, and 24-hour big box stores suddenly disintegrated as if the Earth stood still.

School resumed in the fall. Most schools in the area gave students and their families the option to return to face-to-face learning or to learn virtually from home. My family decided to take advantage of face-to-face since no one in our household is high risk. Also, my kids were in desperate need of some real structure.

But then positive cases started popping up even more than before, causing schools to shut down entirely. I learned that there is a reason why I don’t homeschool my kids – I’m simply not cut out for it. Trying to force a first-grade boy to stare at a tablet for hours and complete homework when he would rather be playing proved to be a challenge. I had begun to give up on a losing battle, when they announced that schools would resume after the holidays. I only had to hold out until January.

Christmas shopping was mainly done online, as many stores were either closed entirely or were limited on stock. There were shortages on everything from essentials, like toilet paper, to frivolous items such as makeup. I’m sure the Amazon drivers were kept extremely busy.

A lot of people suffered a great deal more than me last year, too. Not only were events cancelled and stores and restaurants closed, many people were forced to spend the holiday season alone, in solitude. Nursing homes weren’t allowing visitors; neither were hospitals. People who were either sick, elderly, dying, or all of the above were left in isolation within the confines of their rooms and the places in which they resided. No one was allowed in. Pictures surfaced all over social media of families gathering at a loved one’s window, hands pressed together separated by glass, in celebration of a birthday, or in some cases to say their last goodbyes.

The number of small locally owned businesses that went under during this time was (and still continues to be) devastating. While communities are rallying together to support these small shops and restaurants, the loss of income has hit too hard for several of them to survive the lengthy stay-at-home order. Carry-out simply doesn’t pay the bills, in some cases, and in others it isn’t an option at all.

And the masks. I will never forget the masks. While we are still under a mask mandate at the time of this post, I am still in a weird frame of mind after all these months. I wear a mask in public places, although I’m not entirely convinced as to whether they work or not. I have heard arguments on both sides. I wear it, not as a sheep or a follower, but as a kind, compassionate person who believes it is simply the right thing to do at this time. To each his own.

Walking past person after person whose face is covered all except their eyes is taxing. I never realized how much people’s facial expressions and evident emotion adds to everyday life. It often feels like we are all zombies walking around aimlessly during an apocalypse.

I’m dreaming of summer. Winter in Michigan is not my cup of tea, nor do I know many people who necessarily ‘enjoy’ this time of year. The roads get bad, the wind bites at your skin, and everyone seems to have a runny nose. While the snow is pretty, I can’t wait for warm 80 degree days when I can spend more time outside. A good dose of sunshine would not only be healthy, but also beneficial to my emotional state.

It is unclear whether or not this summer will be any more promising in terms of events, things to do, places to go, and such, but I am determined to make the most of it. Let it be known: I am making a promise to myself and to my family that we will get outside more frequently and enjoy our time together. After all, not everyone will be able to say they made it through a pandemic together when this is all said and done. Possibly not even me. Tomorrow’s aren’t promised, but the least we can do is try to live each day as if it is our last.

Love fiercely, laugh deeply, and enjoy the little things in life.