The First Day
The first day back on campus. The first day back at work. The first day without a mask. As dire things may seem, our encounter with these days is right around the corner. It will likely have been over sixteen months between these first days and the last day of “normalcy” that we experienced in March 2020. Walking into work that day will feel refreshing yet scary. Going out to a fully-packed restaurant without a mask will feel liberating yet uncomfortable. The first day back into the world will not be a re-opening of the society that we have been accustomed to, but rather the grand opening of a new one.
Back in March 2020 (which seems like a lifetime ago), the world shut down. In this first stage of social isolation/distancing, many of us were stuck in our homes feeling panic. It no longer felt safe going out for groceries or to even say hello to your neighbor. As humanity tried to cope with this uneasiness and fear, arose the ultimate solution: Instagram challenges. It ranged from choosing your top four albums or doing as many pushups as you can. Some may consider these challenges corny, but even something as minute as that generates positive energy in society, which was necessary during that time. However, as months went by and despite the pandemic getting exponentially worse, we got more used to the whole “quarantine life”. Fast forward to today, some have even grown to like this whole ordeal: Sleeping late, waking up late, working at your own pace, not having to talk to anyone you do not want to, etc. Of course, there are still many who despise it and just want to go back to their normal life. Regardless, the re-normalization of society will feel equally nerve-racking for both crowds.
When the pandemic comes to an end, our lives will still be far from the old normal we are used to. There will be a new normal that we will need to adapt to. The pandemic may come to an end, but its impact on aspects of society will not be going away anytime soon.
We have taken a step back and analyzed our customary ethics. For example, the tradition of blowing on one’s candles on their birthday cake is now heavily looked down on. It is no longer seen as someone making a wish, but rather a person is blowing their spit all over a cake that multiple people will eat. We never really even thought about this practice from a health perspective until the pandemic forced us. The same goes for concerts. We finally collectively accepted that concerts, where thousands of people are shoulder-to-shoulder sweating beside each other in the blistering heat while sharing the same thirty port-a-potties, is unsanitary. This list of now deemed unhealthy practices extends further: sharing food, shaking hands with anyone, the risks of public transportation, etc. Expect these health norms and perspectives to stick around for the future.
Many have transitioned to work in the virtual environment for the last eleven months. While initially it was seen as a temporary solution, it is analyzed now through a different lens. Many students and workers consider the virtual landscape as their preferred method compared to in-person. Some of the reasons being that they feel it is more efficient and manageable. As a student, I have to say that I do agree with some of their sentiment. I have genuinely learned the material because I am not in such a frenzy just trying to memorize it. However, many people also counter that view. They argue the virtual world inhibits the development of social skills and fails to create an enjoyable work/school environment due to the isolation that comes with operating virtually. Schools and companies are learning to work with both of these crowds amidst their preparations for a future beyond COVID-19.
The most valuable lesson learned from this pandemic is that we need to be extremely grateful to our healthcare and essential workers. We took them for granted and often minimized their roles and contributions. However, this pandemic showed us that they are heroes and are vital to us all. They have been the ones who still show up to work every day and risk their health so we can be safe. Hopefully, this appreciation and recognition of them do not wane away anytime soon.
As relief efforts and vaccinations continue to ramp up, the horizon nears. This dark chapter in human history is seemingly nearing an end. It will feel great to be able to attend sporting events and concerts. It will also feel weird seeing tens of thousands of people close together without a mask. However, that is completely OK. It will be weird and we are undoubtedly going to experience a roller-coaster of emotions, but we should not fear feeling this. It is crucial to understand even though we will go back to “normal”, it will never be the same. The pandemic’s impact on society will permeate for decades, possibly even centuries. We will look at things through a lens we would have never before. Rather than running from this new perspective and set of feelings, embrace it and learn from it. It will feel different, uneasy, and uncomfortable. Yet, feeling all those things is completely OK.