It’s been a year since the pandemic REALLY hit most of us. It was this week last year that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. But is that what made it real for you?
I was inspired for this post by an opinion piece by John Paul Brammer in the Washington Post entitled “Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Sarah Palin rapped as America did.” I won’t try to recap his remarkable memories; I recommend you read them at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/11/covid-anniversary-sarah-palin-masked-singer-tom-hanks-nba/
His article includes many items that I had forgotten…or maybe just blocked from my mind.
For me, it was the Spring Break week I spent in Williamsburg and Washington DC. My college-attending son had a good friend at school who was a foreign student from Japan and was graduating that semester with a degree in Peace Studies. He wanted to work for a year or two and then get his graduate degree, and was interested in several colleges in DC. At the time, North Carolina had few cases but the Washington DC area was considered a “hot spot.” Still, it’s my home town, and the college students really wanted to go, and it was the Japanese student’s last chance to travel before he returned to Japan, so we decided to go anyway. It was still before I really understood about the dangers of COVID.
So for the second week in March, we first took this friend to see Williamsburg, just as a wonderful presentation of what colonial Virginia was like. After that, we stayed with my friend in DC as we toured both museums/galleries (my son’s preference) and potential graduate schools (his friend’s interest).
The museums and galleries were as wonderful as usual (although with more hand sanitizers––we weren’t into masks yet). And touring the universities was lovely as well. Everywhere we went, they apologized for being distracted, although someone always met with this student, even though we just dropped by. So we had great visits and he got the answers he wanted about each college.
However, I particularly noticed that at every college we visited, more elderly faculty were coming up to the front desk, asking the administrative staff for help with Zoom or Canvas or Google Classroom or whatever online teaching methodology that university was using. That struck me because, more decades ago than I want to admit to, I worked with an association that promoted the use of technology in teaching. We always had a small segment of professors who were excited about using the technology, and a somewhat larger group that was open to learning. But the majority of teachers wanted to stick to what they had always done. They justified it in much more academic terms, but I couldn’t help but think it related to a variation of the old saying: These old dogs don’t want to learn any new tricks.
Now I was seeing the metaphorical “old dogs” (no insult intended; I love dogs, and all the ones I happened to see honestly had gray or white hair) struggling to learn new tricks. That’s when I knew big changes were in the works.
Sure enough, as I was driving my son and his friend back to their college, we got an email when we checked our phones during a stop somewhere in middle Virginia to get gas and take a bathroom break. The college told all the students (other than international students, such my my son’s friend) NOT to come back because the campus would be closed for the next three weeks and classes would take place online until the campus was a safer place to be.
We took the friend back to campus and stayed the night in a hotel so that my son could complete a clay sculpture assignment that was unfinished. The next day, we stocked the friend up with groceries—the cafeteria was supposed to be open for the few students who were allowed to stay on campus, but who knew?—and headed home.
Due to COVID-19, my son hasn’t been back to his college since (well, not as a student; we did clear out his dorm room during his designated time in May 2020).
I know that I was in a lot of denial about how serious things were. Fortunately, once I realized the reality of things, we had the advantage of being able to stay home, to do everything online, to wash our hands and wear masks and stay at least 6 feet away from anyone outside our family. We had good computers and good Internet service and jobs and lifestyles that were flexible enough to adapt to a stay-at-home experience. I’m so grateful that so far not only my nuclear family, but the rest of my families and my closest friends have all been able to avoid catching this disease.
Still, looking back at this anniversary, I realize how clueless I was in the first few months of 2020 about how most of 2020 would unfold.
How about you? When did you realize what the coronavirus really meant to you and your life?