What's Tony Thinking

It’s Been a Year


“It’s been a year” is a phrase that has at least two meaning. It has now been one year that we have lived, and died, with the pandemic and under the strictures imposed to combat it. It was just a year ago, February 29, 2020, that the first American died of COVID, right here in King County, Washington. Fitting, I guess, that Linda and I got our first shot of the COVID vaccine today.

And “its been a year” as in “its been a helluva year!” As in a long, trying, patience-testing ordeal.

In biblical Greek there’s a parallel to this double-meaning of time. There are two words for time. One, chronos, from which we get chronology, means clock time, calendar time, countable hours, days and months. The other, kairos, is more about a quality of time. As in “we had a good time,” or “its been a hard time.”

Chronos-wise, we are marking a year of lock-downs, keeping our distance, closed schools and businesses, essential errands and trips only, learning what we were up against, and that masks are — after initial dismissals — important, potentially life-saving. In the kairos sense, it has been a year like no other, at once real and unreal. Life suspended in so many ways, on “pause,” or perhaps a forced quiet(er) time (not all bad).

In the midst of it all, we have had an unprecedented “come to Jesus” moment about racism in the U.S., and we’ve had an election that has stress-tested our democracy.

How have we done? It’s difficult to generalize. It depends on who you’re talking to, when and under what circumstances. Speaking for myself, this COVID thing has been easy and hard. Easy because we’ve been healthy (knock on wood), largely safe and secure. Roof over our heads. Food on the table. Money in the bank. We have each other. And for someone who leans introvert, like me, there are aspects of it that feel more like a gift than a burden.

And hard. Hard not to be able to see friends who are in the hospital or grieve their deaths in the community of faith. Disappointing not to celebrate marriages and other milestones together. Not seeing family, particularly grandchildren, for extended periods has been both sad and strange. And if a well-supported life is like a tepee with many poles, some of the poles that held up our tepee got pulled out — time with friends, face-to-face conversations, parties and cultural stuff. Also out were many of our volunteer activities and usual forms of civic engagement/ interaction. Upshot: a sagging tepee.

What I’ve missed most of all? Table fellowship. Having a beer with a buddy. Sharing dinner and conversation with dear friends.

What I’m most grateful for? My marriage, that we’re in this together, and that we have grown more patient and generous with one another during this time.

How about you? What have you most missed? For what are you the most grateful?

Now it seems that the end may be in sight. I am seeing more and more articles about how things will be post-pandemic.

Recent articles have proclaimed that New York City will never be the same again, while another predicted that Seattle’s downtown would rebound. Some are gearing up for the economy to come roaring back, while others say it will be a long time coming and for some, never. Again, it probably depends on who we’re talking about, when and under what circumstances.

In a study done by two Harvard historians on the aftermath of wars — their study views the pandemic as in some ways analogous to a war — Harvard historian Charles Maier observes that, “Perspectives on the future change rapidly. Part of that comes from professional habits. Journalists will always say, as they did after 9/11, that nothing will ever be the same. Historians like to say there is nothing new.”

And both can be true.

Certainly both of those extremes are evident in contemporary crystal-ball gazing. “Post-Covid, nothing will ever be the same again!,” announce some quite authoritatively. A softer chorus wonders, “Will anything really be different?” Will the pandemic prove to have been “transformational,” or will there be “a return to normalcy?”

My own take is that at some point, maybe this summer, maybe next spring, it will be as if a dam has burst. Parties, spending, traveling, and general going. Back to offices (for some) and school, the theater and brew-pub, off on trips delayed, to projects put on hold. But that will be short-lived. Maybe six months, maybe a year. The euphoria and relief will fade. And then, hard to say . . .

Certainly, there will be long term effects, changes and restructuring as a consequence of the pandemic. But a good deal of how things shake out will be 1) slow to unfold or become evident and 2) surprising, not necessarily what we thought or what prognosticators predicted.

Back to the Harvard historians, Maier and Kemekawa. “A war or a crisis acts like a magnifying glass that focuses sunlight to the point where it can set paper on fire. It accelerates history. In chemical terms, it can be a catalyst. It is less often the originator of postwar developments.”

Great image, the magnifying glass concentrating sunlight into flame. Much has been intensified, accelerated, catalyzed. We’ve adopted some new technologies much faster than we might have. These technologies have social implications. But note the historians nuance. “It [war or crisis] can be a catalyst. It is less often the originator . . .” As to big consequences . . . we will, I suspect, see those more clearly in the rearview mirror than through the prognosticator’s crystal ball.


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