Ben and I are back in Canada again. We put in our 14 days in self-isolation before moving over to my sister and her husband’s multigenerational home. We were welcomed with open arms after our two weeks in the AirBNB we returned to for this second quarantine, a few minutes away. However, unlike the last time we were here, this lockdown took place during American Thanksgiving. I took the part of the spirit of the holiday to heart, and opted to catch up with friends and family. And even in conversations that might have otherwise been awkward, given how many years have gone by, this year there is no shortage of material, because in 2020, we have COVID-19. Even for my friends and family who have not had direct experience with the disease, the impact of the pandemic on society is the common denominator for everyone I know.
I tell the same stories repeatedly with regard to the pandemic, all of which end with “…and we were so lucky.”. We were lucky that neither Paul nor I ever got sick. We were lucky that no one we knew who had the disease actually died from it (although we do have friends who sustained serious lung damage.) We were lucky that neither of us lost our jobs. We were lucky that I was able to work from home at a time when Ben needed me. We were lucky that Ben was in middle school and able to manage remote learning (mostly) by himself after the first few months. We were lucky in that we had almost no direct, personal losses from this horror show.
And most, if not all, of the people that I talked to last weekend have similar stories. In Vancouver, the lockdowns and closures have been similar to Toronto and New York for the past few months, even if the infection and death rates are lower. All of us, in our major cities, have all transitioned to outdoor activities and social distancing. Coming from New York, I have a slightly more extreme story, from the first few months of illness, when the numbers skyrocketed and it felt like an apocalyptic event. I can tell the story of that shared city-wide trauma when we all helplessly watched the hospitals fill with the most vulnerable and committed New Yorkers. As an individual though, my story is still one of privilege.
Still, this shared event has impacted us all. And in the US, we had the pandemic coupled with the presidential election, a season of stress and fear that the very fabric of democratic society was going to tear out from under us. Canadians watched the election with only a small amount of emotional distance, fearing an overflow of white nationalism or the economic and cultural impact of seeing the United States tear itself apart. And so, the twin fears of the pandemic and the end of democracy loomed over all of us this fall to some extent, as we all struggled to keep ourselves going with our day to day. I feel as if everyone has been in their own personal struggle, together and yet alone, knowing we were all impacted, yet being unable to pull back from our own individual degrees of madness.
Now, we’re seeing the first rounds of vaccine coming out, and have hope that after a very long winter there may be a suggestion of normalcy on the horizon. The election is settled and we are almost at the end of the lawsuits that the outgoing president seems determined to inflict on the country as part of his final grift before leaving. And once these two terrifying crises are over, will we all be able to be ourselves again? How do we go back to the people we were before everything fell apart?
For most of 2020, I don’t feel I’ve been myself. I had to narrow my field of vision, keeping myself focused on just getting through each day, unable to look up or around for fear of being completely overwhelmed by just how much of a dumpster fire America has been. For four years, we’ve gone about our daily lives, all the while with the vertical shadow of Trumpism over us, a giant sun blocker set up exclusively for the personal profit of its enactor:
Then, we had the horizontal landscape domination of COVID, which took over every aspect of our lives. We’re still watching our city slowly falling apart under the strain, with so much of what makes New York wonderful cancelled in order to save the lives of more New Yorkers. The impact of COVID is overwhelming when I look outside my own little family. This is why I feel like I’ve been wearing horse blinders for the past nine months. Seeing too much of the world would have kept me from going forward.
So as we wrap up this year, and as I talk to friends, I have to wonder whether we will go back to being ourselves in 2021. Who are we without these two huge, overshadowing disasters? Who were we in the fall of 2016, before nationalism put a would-be oligarch in office? Who were we even in February of this year, before we began to live under the impact of COVID-19? Can we go back to being ourselves in 2021 and if so, what will we even talk about without these all-encompassing disasters?