From the beginning of the pandemic, even earlier than the initial quarantine period that took place in March of 2020, we have been hearing everyone from politicians, journalists and hopeful average citizens claim that we are or soon will be on a trajectory toward “normalcy.” Promises that control over COVID is nearer and nearer have been coming from the white house since January of 2020, and now surveys are showing that many adults (27% of those surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation) have allegedly fully returned to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. But what was pre-pandemic “normal”? What is possible for the future of “normal” after such brutal collective trauma which has taken place over the last almost three years?
For those who dont remember — and there is no shame in that, it has been an overwhelming, horrifying and truly exhausting 3 years —just before the pandemic hit the U.S., we were coming to terms with Brexit, watching as California and Australia experienced massive and unprecedented forest fires, gearing up for the 2020 election, and recovering from an uptick in hate crimes against Jewish people in New York City. We were watching the effect of our country pulling support from Northern Syria, where we had been protecting Kurdistinian territory, and we sat in rapt attention while we watched the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump. We were theorizing about the reality of Jeffery Epstein’s death and our country was erupting in protest over the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot to death by police officers in her home in Fort Worth, Texas.
COVID hit the U.S. on January 21, 2020. By mid-March, school districts across the country had closed their doors, and the beginning of school via Zoom and Google Meets was upon us. Proms and in-person graduations were canceled. The conversation about universal healthcare became dire, as young and poor people across the nation avoided care for COVID symptoms due to cost concerns. The country was in free-fall, but so many of us — myself included — truly believed that we would see an end to it by the time summer break rolled around. Former President Donald Trump was quoted several times saying things like, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine.” (January 22, 2020), and “I think what happens is it’s going to go away. This is going to go away.” (April 28, 2020). Baseless reassurance that America was not susceptible to such massive loss — even as thousands upon thousand were becoming sick and dying from COVID — was coming from anyone with a big enough soapbox to be shouting from.
And then the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked a global uprising against racially-motivated police brutality.
Across the country — and, for that matter, the rest of the globe — there were millions of protestors, marches and demonstrations. Nancy Pelosi and other allegedly well-meaning white politicians participated in almost hysterical acts of virtue signaling culturally appropriative bullshit while activists were being tear gassed and shot by bullets both rubber and real in the streets of Baltimore, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and most all other major cities. Those in power scrambled for control which often came with a body count. Conservative rRepublicans whipped out some of their most hate filled and racist rhetoric that we have seen or heard in quite some time, resulting in the infamous tweet from former President Donald Trump: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The country was angry.
Since early 2020, death and destruction have been at the forefront of the minds of most Americans: from COVID, to police brutality, to brewing war in the Middle East, death and disease were the primary occupants of headlines and news stories. It has become routine to hear about rising COVID death rates, new variants, updated and reinstated mask mandates, the ensuing — often violent — counter protests, and all things apocalyptic on a daily basis.
What does recovery from that kind of thing look like? How do we, as a nation and as individuals, bounce back from something so devastating? Is it even possible, at this stage where COVID is still very much a real and present threat, to begin thinking about “normalcy”?
In this reporter’s opinion, the answer is who knows, we can’t, and no, in that order. We are hurting. Babies have been born into a world that is terrified to hug them. Children are being raised into an education system which is stable only until a government organization that is far removed from their reality decides that it’s time for another lockdown. At their most important stages of life, children are having their social and emotional growth stripped from them. A whole generation is being raised by overwhelming apocalyptic fear. There is no reversing that.
We have seen protests against universal health care while our loved ones are racking up thousands of dollars in medical debt as they die in hospitals filled with overworked, underpaid and understaffed nurses and doctors. The government, which, at its core should be protecting its citizens, has all but left us for dead. We have experienced a storming of the capitol of this country by people toting Nazi symbolism and threatening murder to those who stood in their way — an action which was all but fully supported by the former President. These people, however horrific their actions and unforgivable their hate may be, are hurting too. We have become citizens in a country that is capable only of sitting in or actively perpetuating hurt.
The absence of a deadly virus does not disappear this hate. What has happened will always be a part of our lives, and eventually our history. That does not go away — and it shouldn’t. We should not forget that way people acted in life or death situations. We should not forget the way so many people in poor and Black or brown communities were deserted by their governments. We should not forget the hurt. It would be a disservice to the lives we lost to be anything other than vigilant about truth telling.
The normal that we knew pre-pandemic wasn’t devoid of this hate or this hurt. It was amplified as the pandemic took hold, but it was always there. If we have an opportunity to make the future something different than what it is shaping up to be, why would we want to go back? I don’t want a future that is filled with political turmoil, the threat of poverty lurking around every corner, death and destruction for the most vulnerable populations. Ask yourself: were you really happy with the state of affairs in August of 2019? I wasn’t.
I want COVID to be gone just as much as anyone else. I want to stop sticking q-tips up my nose every time I get a cough. I want to stop losing people. I want to stop watching my friends disappear for two weeks at a time because they have to quarantine. I want to delete Zoom from my computer and I want to see the lower half of my professors’ faces. I want to get piercings without worrying about how they might heal if I wear a mask. I want to travel and work without the fear that I could be exposing myself or others to a potentially life altering harm.
But I don’t want to go back to the way things were.
Quincey Fireside is a first-year politics major who is interested in dissecting the “status-quo” and leaving us with thought-provoking, nuanced questions. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.