In this third year of plague and pandemonium, many of us are asking, “When will it end?” Vaccine rollouts, periodically falling case counts, and the specious prospects of “stopping the spread,” “rounding the corner” and “flattening the curve” have kept us hopeful, but it’s only so effective to tarry in tag lines. The reality has long since set in: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the deadliest outbreak most can say they’ve experienced, as only today’s centenarians survived the Spanish flu of 1918. We find ourselves in a hole of historic depth, much too deep for any light to reach us. At the beginning of it all, we acted accordingly. Many were arrested to their beds and sulking the despondent days away. Much of this melancholy and mourning continues. But now that despondent days have lengthened to despondent weeks, months, and years, we’ve accepted and adjusted to the new status quo.
A few nights ago, I reached to pull down a nonexistent mask before taking a sip of water. Sometimes I forget that I’m wearing a mask where I needn’t be (around my COVID-negative roommates, for example), unconsciously acting as if it’s become a part of me. And hasn’t it? What other explanation is there for those roused awake by nightmares of leaving their masks at home? If something that pervades muscle memory and the unconscious mind–asleep and awake–isn’t a part of us, then what is?
However grim that thought might be, I still believe there’s an inherent power in how completely we’ve adjusted to our plight. Simply put, we’ve been down, but never out. Pandemic precautions have, for the time being, become a way of life, become a part of us, and we carry on amid the chaos. You might want to trivialize the feat and say, “Of course we carry on–we don’t have a choice.” But to do what one must do is a choice, and often a hard one. One could easily give in to the COVID malaise, stop going to work or searching for it, fail to pay rent and get evicted. What’s out of our hands is the situation, not our response to it. We’ve just as much a right to inaction as we do to action, and it will always be on us to choose between them. I think if there’s hope in anything today, it’s in seeing millions choose the latter.
This year, our attitude should prove to be no different. We should find hope in seeing how far we’ve come and continue to charge confidently into what’s ahead. We’ve done the unthinkable and show no signs of stopping. I’d like to ask everyone this year to recall the resolve they’ve shown in these difficult times. Take it from the great philosopher Seneca, whose words are just as applicable to our challenges as they are to the quote’s subject, ambitions: “When you see many ahead of you, think how many are behind!”