I’ve found myself doing things I never because of this pandemic.
At first it was mostly about isolation and sanitation. I washed everything to the point where my hands, left cracked and stinging, started to bleed whenever I sat down to type at my computer. I was hyper-vigilant about any little symptom I had, wondering if I felt run-down because I might have the virus or if it was just exhaustion from trying to keep up with the virus and the ever-changing situations. Did I have a sore throat? Was it just allergies? I kept a thermometer at my bedside and took my temperature whenever I remembered, always relieved when it beeped and my normal 97-something degrees flashed on the screen. Then I wondered if it was broken and I just didn’t know I was sick yet.
Then I worried about whether we would have enough food to eat, with people hoarding food and toilet paper at the grocery store. I took stock of our pantry and decided we’d be ok if I bought a few staples, some flour and more dry beans, just in case supplies continued to look thin.
I’ll never forget my first trip to a grocery store during the pandemic in March. I went early in the morning, assuming the shelves would be better stocked and it wouldn’t be so crowded with desperate-looking people filling their carts.
I walked into an eerily silent store and found fellow shoppers staring, wide-eyed, at the mostly empty aisles. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what seemed so weird, other than the fact that no one was talking, people were giving each other a wide berth, and there were no groups of shoppers. One woman was wearing a mask and gloves, which seemed odd at the time. I realized the background music, soft 8os hits or whatever was supposed to be playing on a loop, was missing. The soundtrack to my shopping experience had become a shuffling sound of people pushing intermittently squeaky cart wheels instead of Lionel Richie elevator rock The stockers couldn’t keep up with items snatched up by shoppers, and resorted to piling stacks of canned corn on the edge of the aisle, still wrapped in plastic. People didn’t care - they took whole layers of those stacks and dumped them in their carts.
I bought an extra gallon of milk, with the plan of pouring off a bit and storing it in the freezer to stock up a little and avoid issues if supplies became spotty. It bounced out of my shopping cart on my way out of the store, and a man found it abandoned in the middle of the parking lot and brought it to me.
He held out the milk as far as he could, stretching his arm while approaching me and saying, “I just washed my hands.”
I thanked him and took the dented gallon jug from him, blackened by the asphalt muck.
“I’m not worried,” I said.
That was a lie.
Shopping became a sort of hunter-gatherer sport in those early days, and when I found something on my list it felt akin to discovering a cluster of ripe currants on a bush in the woods in the middle of summer Eureka! Finding butter seemed like such a treat in the early weeks, when grocers taped signs limiting shoppers to one package to the glass cooler doors. Every week presented a new pantry challenge to match what I had stored at home with the provisions I could find, like my own version of “Chopped” with ingredients I had to make the best of and use up.
More consistent food supplies have become available over the past io weeks, and though it’s still difficult to find certain cleaning products, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes have started showing up on the shelves again with some regularity. It feels like Christmas when I spot a container of Clorox wipes on the shelf.
The world is still not quite the same. We still have officials telling us it’s safer to stay at home. But sometimes it feels more normal, when we see children playing at the park or during recent parades for the class of 2020’s graduation. We’re still not supposed to gather in groups larger than 10 people, according to the state’s rules, but it doesn’t really seem like anyone is counting.
Still, I find myself watching movies and wondering why the people are standing so close to each other before remembering that’s actually normal. What we’re doing now isn’t, but it’s amazing how quickly this new behavior rooted itself in my life, the mask-wearing and the standing back. Finding a new appropriate social distance that doesn’t seem rude but also seems considerate is something I’m still trying to figure out. At first six feet seemed kind of far, but maybe that’s because I have short arms.
I find myself wishing my grandparents were still alive - did they feel like this when their lives changed so much after the Great Depression? I think of the way they lived and wonder if we’re going to have the same kind of behaviors stemming from the pandemic. What will the world look like?
Scarcity during the Great Depression led Grandma to save scraps of aluminum foil, washing and re-using them until they crumbled and wouldn’t hold anything anymore. Will I develop habits like that? How long will I want to wipe everything down with disinfectant? Is this what polio was like, but maybe worse? When will I feel OK with the idea of getting a haircut, sitting in the same chair where someone else was just sitting and having people stand so close?
I don’t know.
But I do know that generations before us survived uncertain times. Scary times that changed the world forever. We will adapt - and whether that means wearing masks or forgoing handshakes for the foreseeable future, we will navigate this new path. More and more, it seems we have to find a new way of living with the threat of the virus and the uncertainty it brings, each of us deciding how much risk we’re willing to take.
We have no choice but to move forward.
Newspapers are a window into a particular time in history. They’re valued by historians as a primary source of information, and are often referred to as the “first draft of history.”
When we study history in school, one of the main questions our teachers ask is for us to imagine what life was like for a particular group of people at a point in time. We develop a sense of perspective, understanding and empathy when we read what life was like during certain times, such as the flu epidemic of 1918 or the Great Depression.
This is a transformative time in history. It’s a time we’ll talk about in the future, a defining moment with a clear before and after.
Here in the pages of the Plaindealer, we want to capture some of your experiences and thoughts about how the virus has changed your life or the challenges it has presented.
We will be printing selected submissions as a sort of time capsule, a written history documenting how your life has changed during COVID-19.
If you’re inspired and want to share, write a reflection on this time in your life and email it to us. We’ll print as many as we can, and in the interest of space, we will accept entries up to 600 words. These should be written as first-person accounts - it’s not about a relative or a friend who lives in another city, it’s about what’s happening here to you.
Here are some questions if you would like to use them for inspiration. Please note this is not meant to be a list to be answered - just a starting point if you’re not sure where to begin.
- How has your life changed amid the virus? Even small things can be interesting to write about if you do so in enough detail.
- How have you and your family coped with this time of uncertainty? What has it been like for your children and what do you talk about with them?
- What have you found comforting right now? Have you found other ways to socialize or find support? Maybe you adopted a pet that has provided some distraction?
- What are you worried about? How do you cope with uncertainty?
- Are there silver linings to this pandemic? Have you made some changes you intend to keep permanently, no matter what happens? Have you had time to learn something new, reconnect with someone or develop new habits you want to keep?
Thank you for considering this. We look forward to receiving your submissions via email at email@example.com and publishing as many of them as we can.