I’ve come to realize something. Our experience with COVID-19 has been a brutal fight, an initially one-sided, heavyweight slugging match we were not prepared for, something we found out early on.
The moment we got over our initial shock and were able to comprehend the totality of our situation, the damage had been done. Suffering from a series of brutal body shots, we went down, hard.
Reeling from the onslaught, we saw the disturbing pictures, the ICU’s overflowing, the cars lining up for miles at food banks, people losing their jobs, their houses, their loved ones, while the death march of sobering statistics cascaded across our screens, and the bodies piled up to a point they had to be buried in mass graves.
We panicked. We slammed into groceries stores in droves, buying up food, and hoarding paper towels and toilet paper as if preparing for an apocalypse, all of which eventually morphed into a form of paranoia that rivaled the disease itself. We obsessed over washing and sanitizing our hands. We got into culture wars about, of all things, masks.
School stumbled through virtual and hybrid learning chaos. We binge-watched shows to numb our brains from the pain and kill the devil of boredom. College kids fled their dorms and were reunited, some not so happily, with their families.
We fought each other over the seriousness of the disease, even as thousands lay in hospital beds fighting for their lives. We teetered on the brink of a complete and utter knockout, an all-consuming darkness, an absolute loss of consciousness.
Then, the bell rang. The pandemic slowed down, just enough for us to grasp our collective breath, and we struggled to our knees, grabbed the rope for dear life, and pulled ourselves up. The death toll began to ebb, hospitals stabilized, schools adapted.
We adapted, again. We learned to be masters of Zoom and Teams. We had virtual birthday parties and weddings. We struggled to practice social distancing as we simultaneously yearned for human contact.
We made jokes about Zoom and Teams and virtual parties, and created memes about social distancing. We accepted our new normal and went on with life, even as others didn’t.
But, as we recovered and had dragged ourselves into our corner, COVID-19 lurked in the shadows, ready to pound us into submission. Unfortunately, we forgot we were merely in between rounds.
The Delta variant burst onto the scene. Once again hospital ICUs started to fill up, overloading doctors and frontline medical staff. The grim death statistics, which had been trending downward, suddenly spiked, and we collectively realized we were once again in a vicious, fight with COVID-19, and this time, it was stronger and faster than before.
The blows came again, this time, a series of headshots, leaving us unsteady on our wobbly legs. Things started to spin out of control, again. If we couldn’t catch a break, we were not going to survive this round; many didn’t.
Then, just as we were losing hope, we heard the faint sound of a bell ringing, echoing lightly through our concussed reality– the vaccines were working. Fewer people were getting severely sick. The ICU load was easing. We could live to fight another day.
We started dining out more. We visited people. We had barbeques and concerts and attended sporting events. We went back to class, and for some of us, work.
We fought culture wars again, this time over vaccine mandates, while people mired in poverty living in third-world countries clamored for medication that nearly 30% of our nation rejected. But somehow we reset our normal button and managed to find our way wearily to our corner, our vision slowly clearing, our concussion receding, our hope building.
Of course, we are just waiting for another round. I’d like to think the next round will be much better. Booster vaccinations will undoubtedly help us. We have made significant advances in creating medications that effectively manage the disease. And we know our opponent better.
Still, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable, chaotic, and we had to learn to let go of our fragile, shared illusion, even if painfully so. We will probably do so, again.
However, I do not think we let this disease get the better of us. We are Americans. We deposed and defeated a king against the greatest of odds. We fought a civil war and then stitched together our broken nation, though admittedly the wound has never fully healed.
We ended the tyranny of slavery and persevered to dismantle elements of racism, though imperfectly. We survived the Great Depression, ripped Hitler from his seat of power, created blues, Jazz, and Rock and Roll.
We gave birth to Jimi Hendrix, for God’s sake!
So we will win this fight, as well. Just understand, it’s not going away quietly into the night to disappear forever. This fight is not done, for either of us. Keep your chin up, your gloves on, and your hearts open, and we will be okay.