Last April, when we were in the early stages of lockdown, the Quebec Writers’ Federation put out a call for short essays under the theme “Chronicling the Days”. The idea was to document the thoughts, emotions and days of authors who submitted during an unprecedented time in our lives. The QWF posted several each day throughout April 2020 on their blog for a total of 100, and I was thrilled to be among them.
A few months later, they asked if my essay could be included in an anthology to be published in the spring 2021. Fast forward one year: The virtual book launch took place a few weeks ago during the Blue Metropolis Festival and included readings by some well-known authors. It struck me that more than one prefaced the reading of their essay with, “This feels dated now, but …” We were still in the throes of the pandemic. Quebec had been under a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am since January. The number of cases and hospitalizations were still high. So what had changed to make their thoughts on the pandemic of a year ago feel dated?
I realized we knew so much more about the virus itself, but the biggest change was in our attitude. Our resilience and adaptability prevailed and, armed with more knowledge, we were co-habiting (unwillingly) with COVID-19.
A year ago, we had no idea when a vaccine would be available. Or how effective it would be when it became available. A year ago, we were told not to wear masks because it would make us feel comfortable breaching the 6-foot distance we were supposed to maintain between us. That distance, it seems, was more important than a mask in preventing the spread of the virus. Then we were told to wear masks AND keep our distance. Human creativity couldn’t be suppressed so cloth masks of all stripes, colors and patterns became almost a fashion accessory. Then we were told that we should wear surgical masks because they blocked transmission of the virus particles more efficiently. All of us, including health authorities, were winging it as best we could.
A year ago, we were told to wash our hands often and for at least 20 seconds. We were told to sing “Happy Birthday” while washing our hands because the song lasted about 20 seconds. Then we were told singing could cause the virus to become airborne so it would be better not to sing. A year ago, many of us wore latex gloves when grocery shopping. We were told the virus could easily survive on surfaces, and were encouraged us to scrub every item coming from the grocery store before putting it away.
But more importantly, a year ago we were paralyzed – by fear and by the unknown. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and even more people were sick. And we didn’t know how to stop it.
Today, we are still a long way from “normal”, but we are no longer paralyzed. We wear our masks. We automatically squirt the disinfectant gel from the dispenser at every store and business entrance onto our hands. Vaccines – more than one – are here and seem to be effective. And in my part of the world at least, things are slowly opening up. And we can finally hope that this too shall pass.