My wife and I were wrapping up our first visit to a new Dallas restaurant a year ago when our server told us about our world shutting down outside.
“Tom Hanks has COVID,” he shared from the kitchen gossip mill, an eyebrow-raiser which settled in for just a few minutes before he brought the latest news flash: “The NBA just shut down the whole season.”
“The whole season?” I thought I misheard him. Yes, the whole season.
I was enjoying a spring break week off, made even more enjoyable by going precisely nowhere. But this “staycation” was brought to a stark halt as I made the calls necessary to cancel my radio show fill-in hosts. If every life in the listenership, every life in America, every life in the world was about to be exploded by a global pandemic, it was time to take calls about it, to discuss the news, the health concerns and the meaning of all of it to our very existence.
A daily radio show is the only part of my routine that has remained essentially the same since last March. On that show, I have spoken to people about their COVID illnesses, from easy to hard; their loved ones who have recovered, and some who have died; their concerns about our way of life and how we interact; their broken hearts as their children’s educations lay shattered; their mourning upon the loss of businesses built over a lifetime.
I have also heard their optimism as the virus numbers have improved; their varying levels of faith in the vaccines; their frustrations about masks and mask mandates; and the eagerness behind their dreams of living a normal life again.
Everything is relative. This spring should contain an energizing air of relief from the nightmare we have all endured. But as last spring unfolded, no one could have known the vast cross-sections of life that would remain shuttered well into 2021 and perhaps beyond.
Airline flights now contain actual passengers. Many states and cities are slowly reopening schools and restaurants flattened by our year of virus mitigation. But it will be a long time before we routinely file into large venues for concerts and sporting events at full capacity, and who knows how much longer before we shake hands, or heaven forbid, hug?
In my state of Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has lifted mask mandates, handing businesses the latitude to set their own mask policies. The joys of regained liberties are everywhere, and so are the arguments. Businesses choosing to keep mask policies are being badgered as if they are committing an offense to public decorum, while businesses casting aside the mandates are feeling the sting of criticism from patrons not quite ready to feel hot breath from nearby.
File this under “a good problem to have.” I would rather navigate the awkwardness of rediscovering freedom than the burdens of unending lockdowns. In my state and yours, the rising tides of successful vaccines and improving statistics hold the promise of lifting us out of our torment.
So as we look forward, we look back.
We obviously behold more than a half-million American deaths, and nearly 2.7 million around the world, a staggering loss in every nation, to countless families who a year ago had no idea what was coming. We had no concept of the death toll, but we also had no idea what we would do to ourselves to curtail it.
Our lost year is surely a year of lost lives. But it is also a year of lost livelihoods, lost family connections, lost retirement dreams, lost time spent with friends and loved ones. It is a year of lost experiences, lost interactions, lost travels and lost memories of a trillion moments large and small that we would have had but for our response to the virus.
I offer that without judgment. Every reader strikes a different balance between normalcy and virus vigilance. There are no solutions, only tradeoffs. Fewer lockdowns would have surely meant more spread of the virus. More stringent restrictions would have taken an even deeper toll on the economic survival and mental health of individuals and families.
On Thursday night, President Biden recommended continued adherence to CDC guidelines, which most people will do. But he also floated a July 4 celebration with friends and family as some kind of special prize from Dad that we kids might get if we are good. We’ll see how that plays in a nation that has been on a COVID leash for a year.
Last year plunged us into the abyss of a global pandemic and the accompanying hellscape of restrictions we permitted in response. This year holds the promise of the virus loosening its grip and the government boot lifting from our necks. We will gather again, shake hands again, live life again. But there are some things we will never get back. The COVID deaths, to be sure, but also our kids’ graduations, precious moments with our families, opportunities in business and in life, and various irreplaceable joys. All of those are to be mourned as we absorb the costs of our lost year, and fight for the better future we have been hoping for.