One year ago today, I wrote an article called “I am not handling this well.” In it, I shared my fears and anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. That pandemic was [checks math] eight days old.
“I am not handling this well,” I wrote on March 18, 2020. “This past week has been filled with stress, fear, anger, and exhaustion. My brain is fried. My body is in knots. What’s worse, I’m not even sure why.”
Later, I put it more simply: “I want to scream.”
Is it absurd that I wrote such a raw and nakedly emotional piece a mere week into this thing? In hindsight, yes. But we were all there, weren’t we? Unsure of what was happening, unmoored, out of our element. This was something new, something—sigh—unprecedented. How were we to know it would last longer than a few weeks or months? Hell, that awful celebrity “Imagine” video came out before my piece.
And yet I stand by my feelings at the time, and I’m glad I wrote them down. A lot of people reached out and thanked me for writing what I did. I wouldn’t change a word. “I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not looking for charity,” I wrote. “I’m just looking for confirmation that someone else out there wants to scream, too.”
But now, a year later, I’m tired of screaming. Oh god, I’m tired of screaming.
I originally intended this piece to be a look back on how I “did” over the past 365 days. A pandemic report card, if you will. Did I practice proper social distancing and wear a mask? Yes. Did I “stay at home” and stay within my “bubble”? Most of the time, but not always. Did I go out to bars and restaurants? Almost never. I know a handful of people who were more vigilant, but I know a whole hell of lot more who weren’t. If I had to give myself a grade, a “B” seems about right. Maybe a “B-“.
But I’m not interested in looking back. I’m interested in millions upon millions of people getting vaccinated and moving forward. (If you’re eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and you still need to get one, you can find a map of Wisconsin providers HERE. I’m still waiting for my first shot, FYI.) Don’t get me wrong—I am well aware that This Thing Is Not Over Yet, and I will continue to act accordingly. I will do everything I can: I will continue to vote for politicians and officials who have taken—and continue to take—this thing seriously. I will continue to favor establishments that did—and continue to do—the right thing. I will continue to wear a mask in public and be a sensible person and do my best.
But beyond that…I have to let go of a lot of unfocused, free-floating anger. As more and more people get vaccinated, I have to stop seething every time I see someone walking down the street without a mask. I have to stop cursing under my breath every time I see a picture of a friend smiling in a crowded bar. I have to make peace with the fact that, like me, most everyone I know is flawed. We’ve been less than perfect throughout this entire thing, and we will be less than perfect going forward. But as far as my (utterly shredded) emotions go, I have to move on. I have to forgive.
I realize this may be an unpopular opinion. Not a “cream puffs are actually gross” unpopular opinion, but a real-deal, people-are-going-to-be-pissed-at-me unpopular opinion. “I’m going to write a piece called ‘I’m ready to move on and forgive everyone,'” I recently told a friend. “Cool,” she replied, shooting me an icy glare. “Can I write one called ‘I’m not’?”
And I get that. I really, really do. (Please leave your own “I’m not” pieces in the comments below.) Poor actions have had dire consequences. Stupid and selfish people have left us reeling. But I simply can’t carry this general hate around with me any longer. What good is it? It’s unhealthy, un-actionable, and it’s turning me into thoroughly unpleasant person. Again: I have to move on. I have to forgive. (My loathing for actively harmful politicians shall remain.)
And I have to do this precisely because this thing isn’t over yet. Yes, the CDC has told us groups of vaccinated folks can get together without masks or distancing, but large gatherings seem to still be off-limits (for now). Where does that leave us? Where does that leave this summer? I fear the next Thing We’re All Mad About will be cities like Milwaukee following guidelines and continuing to hold off on large gatherings (think fireworks and block parties), while smaller communities go ahead and have them. (Then again, I could be wrong.) And while I’m ready to accept whatever guidelines and restrictions stay in place post-vaccine, I’m not ready to curse the heavens (again) when others don’t. I just don’t have it in me anymore. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. Once again: I have to move on. I have to forgive.
Wandering around my neighborhood over the past year, I kept coming across graffiti that read “BE HERE NOW.” It was everywhere on the East Side: on trash cans, on dumpsters, on sidewalks, on park benches. Was it a reference to that old book by yogi Ram Dass? That coked-out third album by Oasis? Just a general feel-good sentiment?
I took it—and continue to take it—at face value. Be here now. Be present. I didn’t handle this last year terribly well, but I can change that today.
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