Anxiety—and hope—in—and out of the pandemic

by John Pixley 

“I’m bored,” I announced, appropos of nothing, as I entered the room.  

“Sounds like a you problem,” my friend responded, at least half in jest, I hoped. 

“Every day is the same.” I was trying to get some sympathy, yes.  

“Ah – that’s a universal problem.”

There was the sympathy, the sympathy we all needed.  It was something like March 12, and it had been a year since life as we all knew it screeched to a halt.  It had been a year since the county was put on lockdown and then the whole state was told to shelter in place and the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic because of COVID-19.

I really didn’t know what this meant. Pandemic? Wasn’t that some sci-fi thing?  A thought another friend was overreacting when, sometime earlier, he told me that “this is going to be very bad” and left early in a hurry to drive back to his home in Vermont “before the state borders close.” (If only our president had had a bit of this reaction—things might not have gotten so bad.) 

I didn’t know I had seen my last movie at the Laemmle—or any—theater the very afternoon before everything shut down. I didn’t know Ophelia’s Jump’s fine production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?’, which I’d recently seen, would be my last live theater outing and that I wouldn’t be seeing anymore concerts in Memorial Park and around the Village or at the colleges (which suddenly weren’t colleges). I didn’t know there would be no beloved Claremont Fourth of July celebration, no Pilgrim Place Festival and no proms and graduations, let alone that school would be online for more than a year.  

There were also the hundreds and then thousands and then hundreds of thousands of deaths due to COVID-19. Over half a million Americans have now died. More than 50 Claremonters have died. Many, many more have gotten sick. 

And there was the economic disaster, with so many people out of work and with small businesses – cherished here in Claremont – struggling to get by. More than a few, including favorite restaurants, have closed permanently or are in danger of doing so. (It was noted in these pages last spring that the Laemmle Cinema here was up for sale – news I really took hard – but it turns out that, for now at least, only the lobby has been rented out while the cinema was closed.) 

Yes, we have all been bored for now over a year, but it has been so much more than being bored.  I now joke that I understand a woman saying last spring that she was tired of Netflix – how can anyone ever get tired of Netflix, I wondered back then – but this is not something to joke about.  

And “back then?” That could be yesterday, or a lifetime ago, never mind last spring.  With every day being the same, with weekends being the same as weekdays, with tomorrow pretty much likely to be like today and yesterday, we are outside the realm of time. Time is meaningless, has gone out the window.  

For me, all this was particularly, even more devastating—and all the more so when it became clear this wouldn’t be over in a few weeks—as I was just getting back in the swing of going out more and being more active after my spinal surgery, leaving me far more disabled and in considerable pain, three years, now four years ago, in February 2017. It was like I was suddenly back in convalescent mode, except I wasn’t stuck in my bed in the living room. I’ve also feared that the virus would be more dangerous for me and have done everything to avoid getting it and to avoid going to the hospital as frequently as I had been.

Even so, I’m not sure if I yet grasp what a horrendous and historic year this has been. I hear it said that we’ll tell our grandkids about how we survived this year, like our grandparents talking about World War II, the Great Depression or the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic, but it’s hard to admit it while it’s happening. Unfortunately, there are those, including our president last year, who have flat-out denied that the virus is more than just a flu, who have not worn masks, who have continued to attend gatherings, making this worse than it should have been.  

What’s even worse, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we can’t even be with each other, to hold hands and comfort each other, to hug. Thousands have been dying alone in hospitals, without their families present, and families and friends haven’t been able to gather to mourn the loss of their loved ones.       

Yes, we have Zoom—thank God for Zoom, allowing us to visit, to hold meetings, to continue to work and attend school, to attend lectures at the colleges and even see plays—but plenty of us are zooming out, frustrated and exhausted by living on screen.  

But now there is perhaps more than a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.  COVID-19 cases are down, as are hospitalizations and, thankfully, deaths, at least overall and relatively speaking.  More and more people are getting vaccinated, although the rollout has been bumpy in several ways, and there’s literally a race to stay ahead of the variants that are popping up. (I got my second Pfizer shot last week!) Although it may be too early to say so, the pandemic may be finally coming to an end. One can practically hear a huge, general sigh of relief.  

And yet. 

When there was recently a story in these pages about a live, in-person music festival scheduled at a local brewery, I realized I didn’t want to go—and not just because I wasn’t familiar with the bands and it wasn’t warm enough for me to sit outside. I wasn’t ready to be with a crowd of people. It didn’t feel right and felt too early. 

I wonder when it won’t feel too early, when it won’t feel too early to go out to a concert, to a movie at the Laemmle Cinema, even if I’m vaccinated.   

I’m also not so sure that we want to return to “normal,” to the way things were. There are valuable things that have been learned during this time, and I hope we don’t forget them. I hope we don’t go back to our go-go-go, energy-draining normality.  I hope we remember the value of having some quiet time, some down time, and some time alone and just with our loved ones. I hope some of us continue to work from home and even have some online gatherings, resulting in less traffic and pollution.

What’s perhaps hardest for me is that I worry that when the pandemic is over, when things go back to normal, I will be left behind. With everyone having to stay at or close to home for the most part, I’ve had the sense that everyone has been in the same boat that I now find myself in since my spinal surgery.  I hate it that we haven’t been able to go to movies, concerts and plays, but it is now hard for me to get out and do these things, although I was, and, to be perfectly frank, it has been much easier not to go out. It has been nice to watch movies on my television or plays online or even on Zoom—and all the more so when I lay in bed! Yes, I’ve gotten lazy, and I’ve liked it that it’s been okay for me to be lazy.  I’m anxious that the time is coming when it won’t be okay for me to be lazy.

I keep thinking of Julian of Norwich, an English anchorite who lived in a one-room cell for years in the 1300s. It was a time of war and plague.  She wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” It helps.    


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