The masks are coming off, the theatres and restaurants are re-opening, and like people slowly re-emerging from the storm cellar after the tornado has passed, we’re looking around at the damage and trying to put our lives back to what we used to call “normal,” even if normal was not that great to begin with.
Part of our human nature is the desire to move on, to find the reminders a tad annoying or mystifying as to why they were important in the first place — or at best nostalgic — and then look to replace them. But I don’t think that this pandemic and our response to it will be left behind. At least I hope not.
If it sounds gloom-and-doom to say that it’s not over yet and still keep a mask handy when you get in the car to go to the store, or hesitate for a moment when someone suggests going to a movie or the mall, it’s not just about health and preventing the spread of an infection. It’s about a reminder of the 600,000 lives lost and most poignantly, those who almost made it but were lost even as the precautions were going away.
Monumental events change our lives in small ways. All my life my mom saved bacon grease in a coffee can in the refrigerator. I was something she learned as a child during World War II when things like cooking oil and meat were rationed for the war effort, and that was a way to extend the means of living. Something as small as that is more permanently ingrained in our programming than all the WPB posters about Victory Gardens and the Buy-A-Bond Today campaign ads tacked on to a newsreel. So maybe from now on, we won’t stand so close in a crowd, we will monitor our health and those around us, we’ll even try to understand how science works and that an ocean doesn’t keep the danger away, any more than it did eighty years ago when the virus wasn’t a germ but a deadly ideology.
I hope that in a year or two from now when I dig through my school tote bag and come across an unused mask or the old app on my phone for the daily health check, I’ll remember why we did it, who we lost, what we lost, and what life was like. And like that old can of bacon grease in the Folgers can in the back of the fridge, I won’t be quite ready to throw it out.