• One Minnesota Writer

The Month of March, One Year Later

COVID photo courtesy of Wix Media

This past weekend marked one year since Mick and I left town. We took a Leap Day 2020 getaway in Red Wing, Minnesota, which is about 60 miles south of us. We headed out on a Saturday morning, stopped at Cook St. Paul, a St. Paul East Side breakfast place with wonderful pancakes and French toast and a dedicated staff, to begin our little trip. When we filled our bellies, we meandered down Highway 61, through Hastings, into Red Wing, and then kept going because it was too early to check into our hotel room. We drove on to Wabasha, where the National Eagle Center is located, and watched an eagle program. We learned eagles can see clearly three miles away.

As we turned the car around to go back to Red Wing, we enjoyed late winter sun, spotted eagles over the Mississippi River, thought about other places along the route where we’d like to return in the summer. Once we got to downtown Red Wing, we put our car in the St. James Hotel ramp, checked in, and walked a few blocks down the street to a little pub for a late lunch and a beer.

There was almost no one inside that pub. We chatted with the bartender until another couple came in and sidled up to the bar. Since they knew the bartender, the conversation shifted away from us but we didn’t mind. We were there to enjoy each other.

Our own conversation eventually got around to the new virus that seemed to be upending things in the state of Washington and in New York City. There were only three known cases in Minnesota. How bad could it get? We pondered that as we ate a bar snack of chili dogs and enjoyed a local brew. Later in the evening, as we delighted in the jacuzzi in our room and then ate a four-course dinner at The Port, we put news about the virus out of our minds.

Now, a year later, I think back to that time and am stunned at what we didn’t know, how we had absolutely no idea what loomed only two weeks into the future. Mick started teaching from home before St. Patrick’s Day, as did our son and his wife. Our daughter negotiated a leave of absence while her employer, Target, figured out how to keep open during a pandemic. Our yoga classes moved to Zoom, as did the local Democratic resolution committee we were part of. All our family dinners with our adult children stopped. Coffee and happy hours with friends stopped. I was afraid to go to the grocery store; the first time I did go, I came home in tears because of the silent streets and closed schools and empty pasta shelves. I learned how to sew some rudimentary face masks.

Today, we’ve gotten used to doing all kinds of things online, having a mask with us all the time, not hugging people we don’t live with. I’ve cheated on that last one, masking up and looking to one side, so I can hug my granddaughter. I don’t cry after going to the grocery store anymore - the shelves aren’t as empty as a year ago, my masks fit better so I can shop without fogging up my glasses, I have a routine for cleaning things that need it and for keeping myself safe. It was just a matter of getting used to this new reality.

But the horror of it all is still a little removed from us. Not having any public funerals or memorials for those who have lost their lives to COVID has kept some of the pandemic reality hidden. Just a few days ago, I watched a New York Times video, Death Through a Nurse’s Eyes, that my nurse friend Luann posted on Facebook. The video is a stunning statement on what happens when someone’s case of COVID is so severe they end up on a ventilator and die. It affects a great many people in addition to the patient, from the caregivers to the family, in ways that we aren’t allowed to experience in community with one another right now. And that’s an incredible extra layer of loss in this whole scenario. It’s a layer of knowledge that isn’t being shared beyond the immediate circle of people affected, like the difference between someone who’s gone to the frontlines of a war and those who stayed home.

In my daydreaming about the time before the pandemic, I find some joy in remembering our last trip to Red Wing, or our last dinner with family and friends. But I have no illusions that there is any “return to normal”. There is only moving forward slowly as vaccines get rolled out, as we habituate to mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, and online working and learning. There is rethinking that must happen, for jobs and the economy, for education and caregiving. Arguments about individual rights being more important than public health are useless exercises that point to a failure to accept reality.

Change is hard, especially when we didn’t choose it, when it’s thrust upon us so quickly we have to adapt without notice. And yet the future always, no matter what, holds the promise of new ideas and joys, new opportunities and relationships. A year into our pandemic, we have learned what a strength human adaptability is, something we practiced in all our travels from the past, something that we can use well as we move on. We can wish for an eagle’s sharp vision, but even that doesn’t allow us to see into the future. The best we can do is pair our adaptability with compassion for everyone, because the idea that we’re all in this together is still true on some level.

The virus doesn't discriminate, people do. I'd love to move forward into a post-pandemic world where that is no longer the case.

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