Two years into a limbo of lockdowns, lost time, and dashed optimism; we may just be getting started.
It’s been 21 months since the first lockdown on March 11, 2020, when my university announced a week-long shutdown as a precautionary measure against the enigmatic, foreign coronavirus. As weary college students in the throes of midterms, we rejoiced. We extended our spring breaks, FaceTimed our roommates, and kicked back for a few days of casual online classes.
Rumors spread about wider lockdowns—surely not legal, according to locals in my small Pennsylvania town. Trips to the grocery store were accompanied by makeshift cotton masks concealing familiar faces, as dazed shoppers awkwardly practiced social distancing on floor spacers while shouting greetings and well-wishes to their neighbors who stood 6 feet away.
When loved ones started to contract the virus, the reality of a full-blown pandemic suddenly crossed the threshold from the great unknown into our own homes. Friends were no longer welcome past the front door, gym memberships were revoked, and even packages were sanitized in case the unfamiliar delivery drivers were accidental assassins, warmongers of an airborne battleground. We trusted no one.
We retreated into our homes for sanctuary, but instead found inescapable reclusivity, a new way of life that forced us to slow down, and for a while, it felt good. Pajama pants replaced trousers, bedrooms became classrooms and offices, and life became still and cozy. The busy hum of the daily grind across America gave way to a deafening silence, a loneliness in vacant city streets, an emptiness in restaurant booths and classroom desks, and a resounding distance among friends, neighbors, and family.
Eventually, some managed to get back on track. Businesses reopened, and families reunited after lengthy lockdowns in the early months of 2020. Vaccines arrived, and healthcare workers breathed a heaving sigh of relief. The end was nearly in sight; nonetheless, the virus forged on, the suffering persisted, and some separation became painfully permanent. As of January 9th 2021, the United States reported a staggering 836,000 deaths from COVID-19 less than two years into the pandemic.
With cases rising yet again and more potential lockdowns on the horizon, COVID-19’s track record seems inconceivable and even avoidable. This, to me, is the greatest frustration of them all. Scientists have pleaded with us, screamed at us, for years. Health experts systematically laid the solutions in front of us, a straight path to long-awaited relief and to a return to normalcy, but so many Americans refused to listen.
When three FDA-approved vaccines were introduced, locals shook their heads with a chuckle, safeguarding their personal freedoms at the expense of public health and safety. Conspiracies swirled while fingers were pointed blindly or angrily at government officials by the same people who neglected to consider the wider impacts of their own actions, or inactions, when it mattered most.
I’ve listened, I’ve considered, and I’ve tried to comprehend, but in the end, I’m only left confused and fearful. I live on the frontlines of a futile rebellious movement, and I’ve seen nothing but an uptick in local deaths detailed in obituaries. The consequences of my neighbors’ resistance span far beyond the borders of my own county and state. We all feel the heaviness of a disaster perpetuated by apathy and ignorance. We have for some time.
I never set foot into another Penn State classroom after the spring semester of my junior year. I spent my last year of college in the refuge of a four-bedroom apartment just a mile from the ghost campus where I had planned to launch headfirst into the final grand adventures of my college career. I didn’t walk across a stage on my graduation day, but smiled beneath a mask in the socially distanced stands of Beaver Stadium as my name flashed on a screen.
The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a torrent of isolation, uncertainty, and change. It forced us to reconsider our everyday lives and to adapt to a new normal, one we’re still getting used to nearly two years later. Ironically, it also brought us closer to our immediate families and made us take each day a little bit slower. It mended as well as reinvigorated our bond with nature and healed our warming planet for a fleeting moment. It broke down our barriers and reminded us of the “dominant primordial beast” within us all, as Jack London might put it. It reconnected us with ourselves and took away the distractions we’ve grown so accustomed to, ones that strip away the gritty reality we sometimes try to avoid.
We’ll forge onward a little bit scarred and a little bit bruised, but tougher, wiser, and far more resilient. The end isn’t yet in sight, but we’ve learned to value patience in the pandemic purgatory. After all, we’re already through the worst of it…..aren’t we?……are we?……..I hope for all our sakes that we are.