Two Years Later
It has been only two years, but it seems a lifetime.
Two years ago this month, normal life came to a sudden, devastating halt as Americans began to deal with COVID – albeit not very effectively. The families of one million dead can attest to that.
We went into lockdown.
No going out. Closed businesses. Jobs lost. Streaming now the new fun.
For health-care workers, endless hours tending the sick, watching the creeping, suffocating death while trying to avoid the virus themselves. They were our new heroes. So too were the grocery workers, truck drivers, and delivery people who stayed on the job so that we could survive our quarantined lives.
In those first weeks of the pandemic, I took to social media to document life with my dearest wife, Carla Savalli.
This week I went back and looked at those posts and am astonished at the memories, some funny in retrospect, some unbearably sad.
Here is a sample:
March 13, 2020: Social distancing Day 1. Big snowstorm moving through. Carla Savalli to me…”This is going to be a long month if we get on each other’s nerves.” I immediately get on her nerves by reminding her to wash her hands on coming back from the store. I am aggravated when she tells me I have to drink from a glass instead of a water bottle. Yes…a long month.
March 15: Social Distancing Day 3. There is no hand sanitizer, and we are running out of toilet paper. At least we have a three-month supply of coffee. So, we are chatting about things we need to do in the next few weeks, and I am going over some worst-case scenarios, plans we may need to change and so on. And Carla says to me, “Stop ruminating. You are ruminating prematurely.” There you have it. Premature rumination.
March 16: Social Distancing Day 4. Carla Savalli just realized she can’t get her haircut for eight to 10 weeks. Me too, for that matter. So here is my chance. First a man bun then an old man ponytail.
March 17: Social Distancing Day 5. Never been one to overdo it on social media, especially Facebook. But in the last few days I have been surprised at how much this lightweight connection has meant, actually lessening the sense of social isolation. And I have been on the phone with old friends. Reaching out may be the best thing we can do for ourselves in these uncertain times.
March 19: Social Distancing Day 6. Just announced – University of Idaho has cancelled all in-classroom instruction through the end of this semester, May 11. Expected but still sad. All classes online. I am ready, have taught online before. But it will be a challenge in any event. My May 7 retirement party is cancelled due to you know what. Maybe we will do something later.
March 23: Social Distancing Day 10. First day of (online) school. Working in Zoom video conferencing tool, things seemed OK. Even figured out how to use breakout rooms for small discussion groups. But TBH, it is going to be a long and hard six weeks.
March 25: Social Distancing Day 12. Yes, the economic news is disastrous, without precedent, at least since 1929. But bad economic news hits each of us in individual ways. News that the company responsible for the manufacture of Peeps will be halting production during the crisis really hits me hard. Especially since Carla put her foot down and yesterday stopped me from ordering a several-months’ supply from Amazon.
March 26: Social Distancing Day 13: Our mother (thinking of you Marty Smith, Ron Smith) died this evening. She was 92. Mother, Barbara Lee Smith, was a remarkable woman. Born a few decades later I think she would have been governor, maybe a senator. She was born into a loving Jewish home, graduated from Grant High School in Portland and was even a beauty queen at one point, albeit in Jewish contests as she was not allowed to enter the mainstream events. She raised five children, supported the family when times were tough. With our dad on the road most of the time when we were younger, she taught me how to throw a baseball and a football. She also taught me how to cook, iron my clothes and sew a button. I will write more about her later. My heart is too broken for more tonight.
March 28: Social Distancing Day 15. A week ago, Carla Savalli placed a pickup order with a local grocery chain to be picked up this morning. She picked it up to discover that nearly everything she ordered is out of stock – toilet paper, cleaning supplies etc. We did get garbage bags and one, lone banana. 39 cents. Ready for the end times now.
April 4: Social Distancing Day 22. Carla Savalli did a good job making our masks. But am I really supposed to wear it in the house all the time? Carla says it brings her peace of mind, probably because I can’t talk much and my glasses fog.
April 19: Social Distancing Day 37. Haircut courtesy Carla Savalli. I only struggled a bit. Chocolate chip cookie for a little treat. So, no man bun this pandemic. Maybe next.
April 28: Social Distancing Day 46. The sweatshirt I ordered has arrived and now defines my pandemic life. I am now an alum, an employee, and a PhD candidate in zoomology from Zoom University.
May 5: Social Distancing Day 54. Smoking cigars during a global respiratory pandemic carries some risk, I have been told. So better safe than sorry.
I realize that dark humor is often the best way to cope with human tragedy. But looking back on my posts, it is clear that even the blackest humor does nothing to mitigate the unspeakable tragedy that has been COVID.
We have lost nearly one million Americans in two years, millions more worldwide. It is difficult to even write that number, and nearly impossible to grasp.
The rush to normalcy in the last few weeks has been frantic, bordering on reckless. All of us want to imagine the last two years were simply a horrible collective nightmare from which we have awakened into a lovely dawn. Not all of us, of course. The families of one million victims best understand the terrible reality of COVID.
It’s Not Over
But as we return to normal, we must keep in mind the pandemic is not over. China is experiencing its greatest surge since the beginning. South Korea recorded its deadliest seven-day-period ever just last week. New variants are emerging in Europe as The New York Times reports. Cases are rising again on the East Coast where a more contagious Omicron variant has taken hold.
We can say with some certainty that we will see another surge. But there will be no going back to quarantine, probably not even back to mask mandates. As we have seen, Americans prefer mass death to inconvenience.
Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full-time teaching at the end of May 2020. He writes a weekly opinion column. Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms until his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a B.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon.