As news of a COVID-19 vaccine rollout makes exciting headway, many of us are cautiously optimistic about a future world where we can leave our current restrictions behind and return to a yearned-for sense of normalcy. It’s been a long and strange year, and for some, sorrowful.
But looking at where we are now, even as I celebrate the progress science has made toward recreating a world where it is once again safe to hold our loved ones, I know that for many of us, COVID is far from over. The tension is not in the amount of time it will take to distribute the vaccine, or overcoming the fears of vaccine-hesitant Americans, but in the emotional and physical recovery of the many people who have been firing on all cylinders for months on end.
It’s not over for women who have had to make disproportionate professional sacrifices to care for young children home from school. Nor is it over for those who have lost someone dear to preventable pandemic surges. It won’t be over for those whose economic situation is drastically different. And as a former front-line essential worker in the pandemic, I am convinced that the impact of long months of unforgiving hours at the forefront of the response is something that has taken a physical, mental and emotional toll on so many of our healthcare workers and public health professionals. Those impacts aren’t benign.
To be sure, there are positive impacts we can hopefully pull out of COVID too, in a lemonade-from-lemons sort of way. Hopefully some will have discovered new things about their families, rhythms, home lives and patterns that empower them to make a better new normal in the time to come. We’ve seen how powerfully a dramatic reduction of human activity is rejuvenating for the environment. Many have geographically located for varying reasons, and this will echo through the legacy of families. Perhaps some of the directions we’ve been forced into professionally may break up the rigidity of the path we were on in a way that allows us to reimagine our way forward. Hopefully as a society, COVID will have given us time to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and what is or isn’t working.
My hope though is that we make space for the reality of post-COVID. It doesn’t all go away at once, for better or for worse. We still need to stand in the gap for each other. We still need to be mindful of the year we’ve all had. For some people this year has been devastating or at minimum overhauling. For others, the impact has been relatively minor. I wished above all that this year could be unifying for the American people, a threat to come together over. But more than 10 months into the American response, I fear that may be a lost dream, a casualty of the pandemic. We chose division instead, and we have paid a heavy price.
Even as our society begins to tick back to something more recognizable, know that many may still be recalibrating internally. And we may need space to do that for a long time.
All the best to you and yours,