One year ago today, Friday March 13, 2020, was the last time I flew on a plane. I had spent two weeks in Memphis, working from my mother’s apartment. I was there ostensibly to take her to a doctor’s appointment, but just as much to spend some time with her (and my dad and stepmom) and assure myself from where I lived Seattle that everyone was okay halfway across the country. In that regard, all was well. In all other regards, less so. In fact, I changed my trip to come home a day early as news about Covid-19 in WA state, the then US epicenter of the outbreak, was worse and worse by the day and I was concerned I might face travel issues. The only ‘advice’ at that time was to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face and eyes. Traveling through busy DFW airport, I felt as though I was wading into the miasma of contagion, but had an uneventful trip home and came out the other side no worse for the wear. I was not sure what to expect next, but certainly it was not that a year later I would still be wondering when life will return to some semblance of “normal.”
Things were a little surreal in Seattle. There was no toilet paper to be found anywhere – fortunately, I had told Brian to pick some up when he was in Portland for work as they were still a few weeks behind us in freaking out. Ten days later on March 23, the state went into a two week “stay at home order.” Of course, I knew there was no way it would last only two weeks, but I thought I was hedging my bets when I predicted we would out of the woods by June or July. The early days were shocking and scary, but quickly we settled into a routine. Both of us were able to work from home. After experimenting a little with ordering groceries online, we found that we largely had the grocery store to ourselves at 6:30am on Sunday mornings. Like so many others, we took daily walks and that seemed to keep things manageable. We all started wearing masks. In one of my wiser moments early on, I invested in a ‘professional’ Zoom account. I have never liked seeing myself on webcams – that evaporated overnight as that became the only way to see other people. We set up weekly calls with Brian’s family and Sunday evening sessions with friends. These were life and sanity savers.
The rest of 2020 feels almost like a dream; certainly, much of it is a blur. There were huge worldwide riots after the brutal death of George Floyd. I trained and walked a half marathon through my neighborhood with my running partner Duana as the race I was going to do was, like everything else, cancelled. On the heels of that, we lost our sweet cat of 16 years, Josephine, and I wondered if 2020 could get any worse. Then the election happened… We all chewed our nails and held our breath, and the contesting of the results went on and on and on. In one bright spot, I hosted a holiday-themed “Covidlympics” on Facebook that was a resounding success. The holidays came and went and we did Thanksgiving and Christmas by Zoom. We collectively all watched in horror as insurrectionists stormed the US capitol on January 6. I had a shot of bourbon at 9am on January 20 during the inauguration out of pure relief. Both our birthdays came and went with no fanfare – this included Brian turning 50 (he claims he prefers it that way). We welcomed a new kitty, Lewis, into our lives. Vaccines were developed in record time. Some of our parents are vaccinated, others are still waiting, but supply appears to be increasing. Optimism is creeping in.
Overall, I have fared pretty well. I have a roof over my head, both my spouse and I have jobs, and I never ran out of toilet paper. But it would be a lie to pretend I have been unaffected. My anxiety shot through the roof during the election and the weeks afterward – and my chronic acid reflux went with it. I could not tolerate watching the news and yet I doom scrolled my way daily through Twitter and the Facebook newsfeed on my phone. And in spite of swallowing massive amounts of written news about politics and/or Covid-19, it was 11 months before I picked up a book, once one of my favorite past-times (mild depression, anyone?). I yearn for normalcy and cannot wait to travel again, and at the same time I find it a little overwhelming. I had several opportunities to walk with friends (Duana and I haven’t walked together since October). I wanted to go on all these walking dates, but after more virulent strains of the virus showed up and with vaccines right around the corner, I made the difficult decision to turn everyone down until we’re all fully vaccinated. Making adult decisions sucks sometimes.
I am both hopeful and cautious about the future. I wonder how this enforced and extended time out will affect us collectively as a society. Will we roar back to the 2020’s with the same frenzied gusto of the 1920’s? The things that divide us in the country have not changed and the polarization seems more entrenched than ever – are we still headed towards civil war? Maybe a little of both – they aren’t mutually exclusive. As for me, my mood seems to be lifting with the turning of the season. I did finally pick up a book (Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, if anyone is wondering) and was pleased to find the pleasure of reading had returned. As I see buds returning to the trees and hints of flowers preparing to bloom, I think we are going to be okay.
Like many of my other fellow Americans, I spent this Fourth of the July watching the filmed stage production of Hamilton. Seemed fitting as it is about the founding of our country as we fought for independence from the British. Maybe we could forget about our pandemic woes for a minute and reflect back to a time that unified us all as patriots. Except if you were paying any attention at all to the story you would know we weren’t too unified back then. It struck me that as a country we were born out of conflict and perhaps it should not be so surprising that we’re a pretty conflicted bunch even still today.
Let’s review a few of our key historical moments.
- The Revolutionary War: Should we stay or should we go now? Not everyone agreed about that, and those that agreed on “going” didn’t agree on how or what the new thing would look like. And they thought it was a good idea to have the second place candidate be vice president (could you imagine Hilary as vice to Trump??). They would settle slights of honor with duels. And these white dudes were not asking women, Native Americans, or people of color how they felt about any of it. Oh, and the north and the south were already getting fussy with each other.
- The Civil War: After the 2016 election, I naively asked my history-professor father if there was ever a time in our country’s history that we were so divided. He said, “you mean like the Civil War?” Oh yeah, that ol’ chestnut. Part of me wonders if it ever really ended. Living in The South in my high school years, I was mystified to meet folks who were proud Americans, but would also routinely say “The South shall rise again” whenever they had the chance. I’m sure there is a lot to unpack there, but needless to say, people seemed to be a tad conflicted about just what they wanted.
- Women’s Suffrage: The movement for national suffrage for women took over 100 years to achieve success. Along the way, there was a lot of conflict over how to achieve this goal (whether over civil disobedience vs less inflammatory marches) plus the fight over women’s right to vote vs black men’s right to vote. Mix in the temperance movement and no wonder everyone was cranky.
- Civil Rights movement: There is much to discuss here, including Rev Dr Martin Luther King and his strategy of non-violent civil disobedience, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, and now Black Lives Matter, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way – and we’ve got a long way to go.
- Roe v Wade: Anyone think we’ve reached consensus over this one? No?? Didn’t think so…
- Same sex marriage: It is legal in all 50 states, but that doesn’t mean a couple wouldn’t face challenges in getting a license, getting a cake, or getting a child through adoption.
I could go on and on about any of these topics and there are plenty of pivotal moments in our history I have left out. The point is that you can go backwards and forwards in our country’s history and we were pretty much always fighting about one thing or another. There are no “good old days” to harken back to – maybe just moments of calm between the storms.
I will note that as I talk with my liberal and conservative friends, I hear both sides saying the same things – everyone is emotionally exhausted from the chaos and fighting in our country, and we’re all yearning for ‘normalcy,’ whatever that is. I hear left and right alike talking about how hard it is to be on social media where the meme-based mud slinging is alive and well. Flag planting is commonplace, questions – let alone dissent – is not allowed. Nuance of opinion is strictly forbidden. I quit watching the daily news because the only thing it seemed to accomplish was raising my blood pressure.
I am lucky to have friends from around the globe. I can only imagine what they think when they see the politicization of the pandemic here in the US. I myself struggle with why the issue of wearing a mask is such a contentious one. There have been moments in time and today when I shudder at what we’ve done as a country. You could look at us from outside and say we are dysfunctional and broken. There are broken parts to be sure, but we are not broken – we are fighters. Our fights are messy, sometimes even deadly, but we are fierce in defending our causes. Whatever you say about us, you can’t say we take any of it lying down. Am I proud of that? Some days I am moved to tears by our tenacity, other days I am moved to tears by the pain we inflict on each other. I am not always proud of the things we do, but I am not ashamed to be a citizen either. If history teaches us anything about Americans it is that we won’t stop fighting for what we believe is right and, for that, yes, I am proud.