You’ve been one pain of a year, filling everyone’s lives with grief, loss, isolation and pain on a level that no one knew were previously possible. So many people were so optimistic about what this year held, and it fell short in almost every category and it seems to have lasted 20 years. Remembering the events of the beginning of this year feels like recalling childhood memories, but it has helped me to realize how much has truly happened and changed over the course of this year.
When did you realize that COVID-19 was a big deal? In late-January I wrote a philosophy paper on the risk that COVID-19 posed to the world in relation to the SARS outbreak of 2003, which was luckily contained. I continually talked with my co-workers about the risks of the virus on residential housing and how we would likely be among the first to be screwed, if it spread far and if it got into our community. Somehow, I managed to put this on the back burner, although it came back to hit me in the face hard in early-March.
Fast forward to March 5th, I had a flight from San Francisco to Milan, Italy scheduled for March 6th for Spring Break. I didn’t get on it, but I thought I was going to until 24 hours before it was scheduled to go. COVID-19 had spread like wildfire in Lombardy, the region of Italy that Milan is in, over two weeks before being declared a pandemic. No one seemed to understand the gravity of the situation, no one in San Francisco was wearing masks, yet they were nowhere to be found in pharmacies and there was no toilet paper, obviously. It was a weird reality that made us feel like we were living in parallel universes.
My Spring Break was enjoyable and I continued to exist as if nothing was happening, that was for another week. Once the daily COVID-19 emails started to enter my school email inbox, it became more real and all of the emotions and fear that I had felt in January came rushing back to me. I woke up on Friday, March 13th to an email saying that the remainder of our semester would be online. Somehow I continued going on enjoying the rest of my vacation and started to comprehend the fact that I was going to be moving out of my dorm in a few days, but I didn’t realize how screwed we really were.
It got real really quickly when on March 16th, the counties of the San Francisco Bay Area issued an indefinite stay-at-home order effective at midnight. I had no plan to leave for a few days, and suddenly I was on a panicked and last-minute phone call with an airline while sitting in a doctors’ office, booking a one-way ticket to my parents’ home in the United Kingdom in hopes of escaping. I did it, but thinking about that now, I am stressed and overwhelmed by the fact that all of that happened so quickly. I, like so many people, wanted to naively believe that this would be over soon, that we would be able to have a normal summer, that nothing was going to change.
Fast forward to December, and my oh my has a lot more happened. I was supposed to travel a lot this summer, I didn’t. I was supposed to study abroad this semester, I didn’t. I was supposed to get to say a final goodbye to a loved one, I didn’t. I have experienced and witnessed loss on a level that I didn’t know was capable, and I know I am not alone. My heart aches for everyone this year.
So much has happened this year and I have not even begun to cope with much of it. I am so grateful for the fact that I was able to travel this year before everything went up in flames. I am grateful that I was able to go to one of the last concerts to happen for who knows how long in March, even if that seems incredibly risky now and does make my heart race a little bit thinking about how risky that was.
I am pained by the amount of injustice and brutality that was continually exposed throughout this year, emphasizing just how divided society truly is. Yet I am grateful for the success of social justice movements this year and the outcome of the election. I am grateful, but I have not coped or had the chance to comprehend anything. Winter Break will hit like a wall and all of the emotions will come rushing in, but knowing that everyone has had a hell of a year is helpful in an odd way.
It’s easy to say that we’re over this year, but turning a page on a calendar won’t fix everything. In a few months the outlook seems more promising, but for now, stay healthy, stay safe, wear your mask and be kind. I hope that 2021 overall treats all of us with more kindness and grace, and that we can find a new normal that is healthy, safe and better for the environment so that this doesn’t become an even more frequent event.