Pandemic Reflections

A Year Later, the Fact That We’re Here at All Is a Miracle

Last March, I was about to head into a new phase of my life. Turns out we all were.

Pfizer vaccine doses at a vaccine site in Porter Ranch, California, on March 15, 2021. Photo: Sarah Reingewirtz/Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG/Getty Images

Before the world as I understood it was flipped on its head one year ago, I thought I was heading toward a different phase of my life. Things weren’t perfect by any stretch, but I could feel a shift on the horizon. I was preparing to move. My student loans, the bane of my existence and the subject of a solid chunk of my writing, were still annoying but no longer totally diminishing my quality of life. In fact, I was beginning to pay some of those loans off. (That doesn’t change the fact that my student loan lenders and oppressors can still die under the weight of widespread debt cancellation.)

For the first time, it felt like things weren’t going to be as hard, volatile, and stressful as I’d always known them to be. That I was finally going to escape many of the personal and financial burdens that were more reflective of conditions I was born into rather than ones I’d created. That as grateful I was for the life I already had, I was about to be able to live life a lot more freely — the only way to truly ever live. It takes some of us a lot longer than we’d like to reach such an existence, but I’d worked very hard for it, and I was more than ready to step into it.

And then, like everyone else, I had to abruptly readjust to a new reality that none of us could have ever properly prepared for. One that included wearing masks, trying to watch where we breathed, disinfecting everything imaginable, and avoiding human contact as much as possible. A life where the only focus is to stay alive.

I know how to survive, but damn, that kind of living is exhausting.

In the beginning of the plague, I got through the discomfort by smoking lots and lots of weed, bopping to Mulatto or Karen Clark Sheard, and working my ass off because I was lucky to be working at all — and then, if nothing else could do the trick, distracting myself from the world being on fire by watching British people bake shit on Netflix. I tried not to think about the year I had thought 2020 would be; instead, I just tried to make do.

It worked for a while… until it didn’t. This has dragged long enough that it weighs on you no matter how optimistic you are. For many of us, much of that has to do with isolation; technology has been a saving grace, but there’s only but so much connection you can make through a phone.

So, in the past couple of months especially, I’ve struggled with the standstill.

I tried not to allow depression to get me, but it did. Already shifting in that direction, I got a jolt in perspective a month ago in the form of the failed state.

It’s my own dumb luck I ended up in Texas during a winter storm that knocked out the electricity and water for days. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of how much more difficult life can get, and as miserable as I felt that entire time, I never lost sight of how much worse it could have been. Look at the mess that White supremacy has made with the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.

But when it comes to what’s bogging us all down, I got a real reminder that in spite of this exhausting year, brighter days are ahead — and I have a fighting chance to be alive to see them.

Last Monday, I received my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. I practically gave that pharmacist my left arm, and afterward, the soreness faded into my first real sense of relief. According to our president — Moneybagg Joe, as the memes call him — this feeling will be shared by other adults in the near future.

In a White House speech last Thursday, Biden announced that restrictions on who can make a Covid-19 vaccine appointment will be lifted nationwide by May 1; by the end of May, all American adults should be able to get their first shot if they so choose.

“I need you — you, the American people. I need you,” he said, urging Americans to get vaccinated when given the opportunity.

Life may not be completely normal by year’s end, but at the very least, we can return to a life where we can safely hug our aunties without fear of killing them. Maybe I can even be the old ho at the next City Girls concert (if it’s like an amphitheater or something). I look forward to remembering how to have small talk, potentially awkward dates, and going on hikes and shit in Los Angeles.

More than anything, I’m ready to go back to living a fuller life that includes not having to question if the air that I’m breathing will lead to my death.

We are all fortunate to even be in the position of reflection, but I wonder what lessons, if any, Americans have taken since our nightmare began.

I don’t think the media captured just how devastating the economic fallout from this pandemic has been. It’s not hard to see why: Only but so many millionaire anchors care about the poor. But whenever I have stepped outside, it’s hard to ignore.

Thank goodness for the stimulus, but damn, the richest country on Earth shouldn’t be so stingy.

The same can be said of the psychological toll this all has taken: A new Pew Research survey reveals that a fifth of U.S. adults (21%) are experiencing high levels of psychological distress. Nearly three in 10 (28%) among those say the outbreak has changed their lives in “a major way.”

Hopefully, by the next pandemic, we’ll all be guided to be less selfish. To be more generous and considerate. To make me want to cuss less at the antics I see on Instagram.

The weight of this moment in history will take many years to process fully, but as much as I could go on for days about the surrealness of the Covid-19 pandemic, what will likely haunt me for the years to come is how dismissive of human life people have proven to be.

If not depriving the suffering of a much-needed financial boost, this country has simply left many for dead. It will never be right how many of us were left to fend for ourselves. Just our luck, a once-in-a-century pandemic occurs and the dumbest, most selfish, and vile person imaginable is at the helm of it. Donald Trump will always deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this needless massive death, but I must admit I have been so disappointed by the behavior of others, too.

I don’t say that from a place of piety. Not many of us can say we behaved perfectly this entire pandemic (because there has been no way to be), but I do know, online and in our real-world lives, many have exhibited a level of selfishness that will be hard for some of us to look past. I have never been naive about the casual cruelty of people, but really, it should not take a life-threatening virus to think about other people. And even then, in some cases, I know a few where not even the virus could contain the recklessness.

We have all been failed by the state, but the fault for bad behavior cannot solely be laid at the feet of the government.

Hopefully, by the next pandemic, we’ll all be guided to be less selfish. To be more generous and considerate. To make me want to cuss less at the antics I see on Instagram. Some of that begins with recognizing that one day, we may find ourselves to be as vulnerable as the hundreds of thousands of people we have lost. If there’s any one thing we need to take away from the past year, it’s this: We are all so, so lucky to be here.

Well, that and to please get the fucking shot when your time comes. Let’s wrap this shit up already.

Author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store