New year, old pandemic: what we can take away from nearly 2 years of COVID-19

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

For me, it’s very melancholy to reflect back on the weeks right before the pandemic began. On the one hand, it’s pleasant to remember a time when no one really had to think anything of hugging a friend or shaking a hand, masks weren’t a component of the daily fashion ensemble, and everyone was blissfully ignorant to the realities of the life-altering event that was about to occur. On the other hand, it can be disheartening as well, considering we’re still largely without these carefree opportunities that we had before, or any insight into when we will eventually have them again, if ever.

It’s almost unbelievable to think back on conversations with friends and teachers about the increasing threat of the virus and the potential closure of school the week before it actually happened. The thought that school would close, at that point for just two weeks, seemed absurd. The proposition from one science teacher that the virus could potentially be around until the summer, when the conditions tend to make it harder for the flu to spread, felt absolutely preposterous. That last Friday, I remember teachers telling all of us to take home important materials just in case; my superstition encouraged me to follow their advice, while my skepticism caused me to leave other stuff, like empty binders or notebooks…or the can of Chef Boyardee I had brought for lunch that day but didn’t end up making (I received it back at the end of the year in a plastic baggie). That night, the school announced they were closing for two weeks. Two weeks…and then we would be back to normal. Yeah well, here we are two years later, entering 2022, and still nowhere near it.

For me, the pandemic has felt like phases so far, corresponding with the school years. The end of eleventh grade—that was the quarantine period; when everyone was avoiding going outside and interacting with others as much as possible, Tiger King and Animal Crossing: New Horizons were all the rage, and my daily routine included completing my school assignments from my bed to the musical stylings of Kim Wilde or Roxy Music or Ultravox by around 1 p.m., and then spending the rest of the afternoon watching movies. For the most part, I was choosing to accept everything that was happening around me; I figured that with how monumental and unprecedented all of it was, there weren’t really any other options.

The next year, my senior year, was the phase during which this ideology was pushed to its limits. I became more angry and unaccepting of the situation as the school year progressed with little hope that we would get any of the senior celebrations that we had anticipated years prior. Beyond that, I was disappointed to be losing the opportunity to experience a normal last year of high school and find closure in those last months with my class before all of us went our separate ways. A lot of that school year was spent wishing that things could be different, and with a heightened sense of bewilderment and disbelief that they were the way they were.

Now, so far this year, I feel as though I’ve returned more so to a state of acceptance, but in a different vein than previously. Before it felt like maybe a coping mechanism to make sense of the rapid changes happening around me, and now it feels more like I’m just used to things being the way they are. I’m used to grabbing a mask before I leave the house, or getting a temperature check before entering certain facilities, or having to change or cancel plans due to health or exposure concerns. After two years, I’ve sort of just settled into this new way of the world.

I think a major part that has gotten me to the point I’m at now is the lessons I’ve learned or that have been reinforced since the start of the pandemic. The most prominent of those lessons is definitely, “it is what it is.” I have gotten a lot more accustomed to rolling with the punches and taking things as they come than I ever was previously. This has been beneficial to me not only in dealing with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, but also in other aspects of life.

I’ve also developed a deeper appreciation for cherishing moments and not taking anything for granted. They say you never know how good you have something until it’s gone, and the pandemic illustrated that in spades. This ideology was especially helpful during my senior year of high school; when I was upset about the state of things or how the year was working out, I reminded myself of how lucky I was to be in good health and have the support of friends and family during this time, and for all of the amazing experiences I had had years prior in school. Instead of focusing on the things or the time I was losing, I tried to focus on what I did have, and make the most out of my two days a week at school in person, and the handful of events we were able to have. Even still, I think it’s incredible how this experience redefined these ideas, and pushed lessons that I thought I understood fully to new limits.

Entering 2022, it simultaneously feels believable and unbelievable that it has been two years since the pandemic started; one part of me feels like it was just yesterday that we all had to develop these new routines and get used to a new way of life, and another feels like it’s been an eternity since anything was normal. But however frustrating or disheartening it is to be entering the third year of pandemic life, especially compared to the originally advertised two short weeks, I’m trying to keep that mantra in mind, “it is what it is.” While of course all of us should be doing what we can to stop the spread and keep our communities safe, no singular individual has the ability to snap their fingers and make everything better. With such a momentous and overwhelming situation, I think to a degree you have to kind of just take things as they come, but of course I know it’s a lot easier said than done.

I have been more nervous about things lately with the spike in cases and the omicron variant; I worry about the possibility of everything having to shut down again, especially school. However, I try to keep in mind that there’s only so much that I can do, and the importance I have witnessed of being flexible and accepting of what I can’t change. Further, I try to keep in mind how much all of us have been through and powered through up to this point. All of us have had to adapt to new ways of life and scramble to figure out how to come to terms with something unlike any of us or our parents or our grandparents had ever seen before. No one knows exactly what the future holds; hopefully not quite as many obstacles as 2020 or 2021 presented.

So as we enter this new year, I encourage everyone to keep in mind all of the challenges they have overcome or lessons they have learned in the past two years and know that they are strong enough to get through anything this new year may throw at them. And most importantly, that none of us are ever completely alone, despite the distances the pandemic may create.