When I started this blog a year ago, my goal was to preserve a record of daily life during an extraordinary time. I based the idea on the Mass Observation journals ordinary people kept during WWII in Britain. In his book about this project, In the War Now, Simon Garfield says the archive is “universally regarded as a unique and invaluable record of quiet lives transformed by events far beyond their control.”
March 2020 our world suddenly began collapsing. Schools closed, businesses shut their doors, we began stampedes for toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant. I still have a box of Red Mill bean soup mixes I bought in a fear that stores would run out of meat. Freezers were in short supply. No one knew what was safe anymore. Should you let UPS packages sit in your garage for two days before touching them? Should you wipe every item from the store with disinfectant before storing it?
Masks. You could write a dissertation about the subject. In March, hospitals began a desperate search for N95’s. Why weren’t there enough? Why couldn’t we make more quickly? Would there be enough ventilators? States without much virus were shipping their ventilators to states with spikes. We were desperate for information, but what we got kept changing with a president who was determined to politicize every aspect of the pandemic. At a particularly low point, he even suggested injecting people with disinfectant. Numbers of deaths climbed. We all learned the phrase “flattening the curve,” and endured a roller coaster of virus highs and lows.
In the midst of all this, those who committed to be diarists tried to faithfully record our experiences of a life we didn’t recognize.“I am in a sci fi movie,” I said to myself one day. On the surface the neighborhood looked the same. Knockout roses bloomed in front of the plain brick house on the corner, the smell of fresh mown grass filled the air, children were riding their bikes in circles in the street, but underneath, nothing was the same. I was afraid to walk with my neighbor, I looked suspiciously at the mailman.
It is not an exaggeration to say it has been a year of mass trauma. Most of us have not lived through anything like it before – and the trauma of the virus compounded by Trump’s presidency. We were assaulted by the news daily but couldn’t stop watching. The country was more together and more divided than ever.
I feel lucky to have had a way to process all this through writing and to have fellow observers who have also kept writing. Slowing down has given us a chance to appreciate the drama in our own backyards: the cardinals and woodpeckers, the mad squirrels, the stealthy hawk, the stalking cats, the black silhouettes of trees changing in front of us from season to season through the year. Hiking, cooking, reading, hanging out with partners, Zooming with our children. These are the stuff of our days and how we have made it through. One definition of happiness I always liked was “small pleasures often repeated.” We found the truth in that this year.
All of us diarists are now vaccinated and it is the small pleasures we have missed during the last year that now seem miraculous. My daughter is visiting for two weeks because she has also been vaccinated! We had lunch with friends! I hugged my 94-year-old mother for the first time in a year! These are real sources of joy. I will not say I am glad for the past year because of its insights, but there are windfalls from it that we can harvest.
For me, I see more clearly that what I have is now, and that it is good, and that it is enough.