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Redefining normal life as we emerge from COVID isolation | COMMENTARY

Erica Uszacki, a Muhlenberg College dance and finance major from Budd Lake, N.J., leads a free, real-time dance class for children twice a day Monday through Friday. While some kids struggled with online learning during the pandemic, others found it to offer convenient outlets for creativity.
Erica Uszacki, a Muhlenberg College dance and finance major from Budd Lake, N.J., leads a free, real-time dance class for children twice a day Monday through Friday. While some kids struggled with online learning during the pandemic, others found it to offer convenient outlets for creativity. (Erica Uszacki / XX)

None among us have been spared the effects of COVID-19; from illness and death to disrupted routines, we have all been touched by it to varying degrees. Fortunately, however, many of us have now been vaccinated, and life is slowly returning to normal. But what is normal? As we reemerge, we realize that things have changed — some for the better, others for the worse.

On the plus side, we can see our friends and relatives again — in person. We can go to restaurants and resume many outdoor activities, including concerts and sports. We no longer have to depend on Amazon but can actually shop in real stores.

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As a result of the lockdowns and social distancing rules, many people began working on Zoom and other video platforms. I cannot imagine what the real estate market will look like in major cities when lawyers, accountants, engineers and many other professional and technical people prefer to continue working at home, totally or partially.

While young students — elementary and middle, especially, but also high school and college-age students — learn better in person according to many studies, older students, including retirees, have marveled at opportunities to learn online. I, myself, have loved teaching on Zoom. In my Johns Hopkins short story course in the fall, two of my former college classmates participated: one living in New York City, the other in Coral Gables, Florida.

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In my spring novels course, there were two women from California: one an old friend and the other someone who simply read about my course online. Elaine, my friend in Oregon, takes at least a dozen online courses each semester.

Although we were physically distant, many families have grown closer. For some, adult children moved back in with older parents to combine forces. Emma, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, found herself caring for two young grandchildren, while her daughter and son-in-law worked from her home online, having left their New York apartment for her large home in Hunt Valley. In other families, couples reconnected now that both spouses were home most of the time. My friend Frances told me that for the first time in years, she and her CEO husband ate dinner together every night.

Sadly, however, other families have suffered greatly because of too-close quarters. According to Amanda Rodriguez, executive director of TurnAround, which provides support to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and sex trafficking, her organization received approximately 800 calls reporting domestic violence in October of 2020, compared to 80 in October 2019.

“Clients who dealt with past trauma,” says Ms. Rodriguez, found that “trauma reemerges amid stress brought about by the pandemic.”

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Of course, the most obvious negative result of COVID was the loss of more than half a million U.S. citizens, and more than 3 million people around the globe, including family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Each Friday night on “PBS NewsHour,” anchor Judy Woodruff has profiled five interesting and diverse men and women who lost their lives to this deadly virus.

Many health care workers lost their lives as well, and the toll this has taken on their families will likely last forever. To be sure, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have never been busier, treating people who lost family, friends, jobs and homes as a result of COVID. Indeed, a new book by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry, called “What Happened to You?” and subtitled “Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing,” has quickly topped the bestseller lists.

One of the most sensitive pieces I read about reemerging after COVID came from a former minister from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who described himself as a 6-foot-tall, 200 pound Black man with an Afro hairstyle. He wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, saying that staying at home during the pandemic, he found himself becoming “more relaxed” in body and mind; sleeping better and feeling more peaceful and well overall. Thus, he advocates retooling our perceptions in order “to shape a better future for us all.” Good advice.

Many of us, while trying to make sense of this crazy new world have been, and still are, reading more, exercising more (especially walking) and enjoying nature. When I think of being out in nature, I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem:

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul

and sings the tunes without the words

and never stops at all.

As we reemerge, like the cicadas, we can make all our lives better by respecting ourselves and others and retooling our perceptions, so that we never stop singing the song of hope.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of “The Feminine Irony” and “Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing.” Her email is lynneagress@aol.com.

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