Forever Changed – A Pandemic Anniversary

The historian in me thinks it’s important to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. The writer in me would rather not. Maybe it’s insecurity – there are far better writers than me sharing their thoughts right now. Maybe it’s sensitivity – I’ve just started to bounce back from a really hard year and I don’t want to revisit the pain. Maybe it’s my forward-thinking nature which would rather focus on what’s to come.

One of the podcasts I follow has been doing short retrospectives on how we all reacted to the start of the pandemic, and I have to work hard not to cry when I listen. The “lost year” started for my husband and me on Friday, March 13, 2020. The day before, I’d been at a middle school speaking to 600 students. The author visit went as it usually would, except for exchanging elbow bumps and toe taps with the teachers and students instead of handshakes and hugs. That night, my husband and I went to a networking event at the local dinner theater, followed by dinner and the show. We noticed a smaller turnout than usual. I heard a few people had cancelled out of caution regarding this new illness, but the rest of us thought we were safe if we didn’t touch each other, and besides, it was really just a bad flu.

The next day, we awoke to discover my husband’s company had ordered everyone to work from home. And I watched as my inbox lit up with some e-mails cancelling my upcoming talks and classes and others from my museum buyers saying they were shutting down and were suspending book orders for the foreseeable future. In a matter of days, all three of my revenue streams had stopped flowing.

Back then, I didn’t want to think about how long the pandemic might last. I couldn’t have imagined that one year later my husband would still be working at home, my revenue streams would still be only trickling, and I’d have endured twelve months of shared worry, fear, grief, anger, disillusionment, and boredom with my closest friends and family members.

I also couldn’t have imagined how a year of isolation and reflection would have brought me to new and better ways of thinking about the things that matter most to me.

We can’t reflect on a year of pandemic without also remembering the social unrest, political turmoil, and natural disasters that also weighed heavily on us. And that’s when I start to feel overwhelmed.

I stored all that stress in my body, actualizing new aches and pains and sometimes minor panic attacks.

I processed all that stress in my mind, thinking constantly of all the things I could or should be doing.

I moved all that stress through my heart, sending as much love as possible into our hurting world and holding back just enough for myself to get me through.

I tried giving over all that stress to my soul, asking my Higher Self to transform it into something that would help me grow and better serve others.

I held that stress back from my art, and maybe that was a mistake. In trying to protect my creative spirit from all that pain, I inadvertently shut out inspiration.

What will I remember from this year? I’ll remember how it brought us together and how it drove us apart. I’ll remember songs sung from Italian balconies and songs sung in remembrance of those who died. I’ll remember long walks in new neighborhoods and long zoom calls with family members I missed. I’ll remember bundling up to sit far apart on a chilly night with my book club and lying under my warm blankets some mornings wondering how I was going to get through another day. I’ll remember my fear the first time I went to the grocery store during the lockdown and the joy on my neighbor’s face when she snatched up her sleeve and shouted, “Look, I got my first shot!”

I embraced writing this post when I realized it didn’t have to be perfect. It didn’t have to encompass everything we’ve been through in the past year because no single post could ever do that. We’ll be processing this time for years to come. It will continue to work through our bodies and souls and show up in our art. We are not “through” this experience after one year. We are “in” this experience for the rest of our lives. Studying history has taught me that, but so has studying grief, and creativity, and love.

We will carry these lessons with us always, and we will travel this journey together, sometimes thinking back, sometimes looking forward, but forever changed.

Teresa R. Funke

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