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Updated: Oct 12, 2020

August 20, 2020

Writing about — while living through — this crisis is starting to take its toll.

I decided to do this blog because I knew way back in February that COVID was going to be a huge story. It's turned out to be far bigger than that. It'll be the story of my lifetime and plenty of other people's, too, as World War II or the Great Depression were for previous generations.

So I'm still gamely trying to tell it — not The Story of COVID, which plenty of journalists and pundits are doing for all of us, but just my own version of it. How ordinary life is being lived day to day.

And even that is overwhelming. I'm afraid I'm failing, though all I set out to do was just chronicle it. I wasn't trying to make money or get famous. I just wanted to leave a truthful record behind, if people at a later time wanted to know what it felt like to be us (or at least me).

So I am chronicling it … but to say it’s hard work keeping up with the story of 2020 is an understatement. And by "keeping up" I don't even mean writing every day or about every issue. I couldn’t possibly get my arms around a monster this big! I chronicle whatever seems important on whatever given day, whether to me personally or to the nation or world. But even that often feels like an insurmountable task.

The truth is, it’s all important. It’s a million little, medium and big stories rolled into the huge story of a global pandemic.

Turns out I’m not writing the story of life after COVID came (my first title for this blog). What I'm writing is a story I now privately call “COVID &: a deadly worldwide contagion + all the controversies + movements + dangers + heartbreaks + breakthroughs + changes + hardships that COVID has brought."

It’s turning out to be a story of America at a time when we are re-defining what America is. (I admit that I barely know what it is anymore.) It’s about how all the good and bad in us as a nation, as individuals, is on display and being challenged.


It’s a story about a society confronting racism (again). A lot of places on earth have plenty to answer for when it comes to prejudice, racial and otherwise. But I think our history is particularly shameful because slavery, followed by the inequalities that came after, is so antithetical to what our nation is supposed to be all about — what we say we’re all about, or maybe what we meant to be all about when the Constitution was drafted.

Apparently when our founders wrote in the 14th Amendment that every citizen (defined as a person born in the United States) was entitled to equal protection under the law, they didn't mean, you know, every person.

So although the story of COVID isn’t technically about social unrest, I don’t think historians will be able to separate the Black Lives Matter protests, by people of all races, from all the other social reverberations brought about by coronavirus. It is both part of the story of COVID and independent from it.

Likewise, 2020 is about trying to survive economically while the virus rages on. It’s surreal how people keep trying to restart the economy, like the virus is a speck of dandruff on the shoulder of a suit jacket. Our booming stock market: also surreal. I have this mental image of American society still trying to live in our broken economy the way survivors in plane crash movies always want to live in the burnt-out shell of their 7-47.

The story of COVID is also the story of how our young adult population (our precious twenty-somethings, aka millennials) has been served up its third catastrophe in two decades (9/11 and the 2008 crash being the first two) while trying to establish careers and date and marry and have kids and do all the things young adults do, and by the way MUST do, for us as well as for themselves, while once again navigating a crisis not of their making. Somehow the COVID era seems more unfair to them than to anyone else.

COVID has also been the story of school-aged kids who were at first thought to be immune from the virus but have turned out to be efficient "spreaders" instead, and how society is torn about whether to keep them home safe (although who is supposed to watch them while parents work?) or send them back to classrooms where they’ll surely pass around the contagion, then head out and infect adults. This is already happening all over the U.S. as the summer ends. In every school setting, from Pre-Ks to college campuses, administrators report that they are “wrestling” with how to reopen safely. No one can find an answer because, hello, there is no answer. What we’re really wrestling with is how much human suffering and death we're willing to trade for a functioning society.

All of these stories-within-stories should be enough. Monumental unto themselves, all radiate from the central story of COVID, which in America comes down to millions of people falling ill from this virus and hundreds of thousands of them dying.

But I think when we look back on the year 2020, many of us will see that the real story of COVID-19 is how we were forced to face ourselves.

And when I say “ourselves” I mean we ourselves, yes, but also our society and its values: the things and people we love, the things we’ve built, how we spend our time, what’s important to us, our choices, and how we want our future to look.

Photo by Streetwindy for Pexels

Many of us have resisted looking at all this. Many have spent the spring and summer of 2020 impatiently waiting for life to go back to normal. Self-reflection, like inner change, was resisted — by individuals, and by our government, too.

I, personally, believe that before we’re done with this virus, all of us will have to do a little reflecting and changing. Probably more than a little, and plenty of us have already started. But there are still plenty of others who refuse.

Personally I think this is foolish. I think if we'd been open to changing, we might have been able to avoid where we are now: #1 in the world in cases and deaths.

But having to sit still and take a long hard look at ourselves and what we’ve made of our lives thus far isn’t a popular American pastime. Those months of lockdown pushed us face-to-face with our choices: this is the person I married. This is the work I do, and this is how I've been spending my days. This is what’s important to me. This is what I haven't considered important.

Then we had to ask, is what I’ve made and done really what I want? Have I let myself or other people down? Have I done what I set out to do? Will I make those choices again when COVID is over?

Already, how many of us feel exactly the same about our lives as we felt in March? In May? Now?

So we are faced with all these baseline, almost mid-life crisis type of issues daily, because we don’t know if we’re going to get sick and if we do, whether we’ll survive. OK, sure, the odds are in our favor (not to sound like the Hunger Games … though my nephew calls the young woman who does our grocery shopping our “tribute” and, well, there are other similarities!) — but they’re still just odds. We all hear about the 9-year-old who went to the ICU, the 78-year-old who breezed through, the young mother who still hasn’t recovered after three months. So we can’t really rest easy in the odds.

And there are so many constant reminders — the masks, the new rules, the fear of a stranger’s touch, all of it — that it’s not like we can ever forget about it, either. ( I know many of us do try but hello, we get our temperature taken at the hair dresser, and there are in Plexiglas shields in checkout lanes. I just got my first outdoor mani-pedi. How can we forget this virus for even a minute?)

But when we try to stay tuned in — even, heaven forbid, stay caught up — we are quickly sucked into a tornado-like whirl with no exit.

I know, because I keep trying.

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