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By: Sara Swallow
Last year on March 7, 2020 I had the last dinner I would have in a restaurant for a long time. Thankfully, it was good food at Ramen Spot in RVA and good company. I’m pretty sure nothing beats freshly made ramen and tea when it’s still just a touch cold outside. I wasn’t wearing a mask at this point and we would be going into lockdown about a week later. When I saw on our local news channel that Virginia Governor Northam had just issued a stay-at-home order, I ran out to get seeds and gardening soil. Most people were running to get toilet paper but I knew I would need something to keep me busy. I went on ALL the walks, rain or shine.
There’s a little bit of nostalgia when I think about the early quarantine days when everyone was baking sourdough bread and watching Tiger King or Outer Banks. We all thought the quarantine would last three weeks tops and we could enjoy some time at home. The camaraderie was tangible through the social media posts from people all over the place saying “we’ll get through this” and “we’re going to take care of each other,” but that lasted about two weeks.
Then came the anti-maskers and protests at government buildings with people protesting for their right to get a haircut during a global pandemic. I thought VCU would have us back in person after spring break, but then they extended the break, and then they said all classes would be over Zoom. I never got to really say goodbye to my classmates and professors that semester because we all just kind of left the Zoom meeting waving at each other.
Now it’s a new year and a new administration. There’s a new hope this year with the COVID vaccines getting to the public that felt all too distant last year. There’s a new COVID relief package that will help get people who’ve been struggling under COVID in the right direction. I don’t know if everyone will be up on their feet by the end of this year, but I hope that I can hug my grandparents for Christmas. It feels warm to see fully vaccinated people reunite with their families, but I’m still reminded of the millions of people who can’t yet, and the thousands of people who will never be able to hug their loved ones again.
It’s weird how I never thought how much I’d appreciate getting a handshake or a hug from someone. I went to the doctor’s office yesterday, thankfully not for a COVID test, and I was talking to some of the nurses there and they remembered how bad it was in the beginning. Everything was COVID. Ear pain could be COVID. Runny noses could be COVID. Doctors wanted to be careful. Patients were terrified. There was so much fear in the beginning.
Frankly, I’m still fearful. Not necessarily because of the virus, but because of what happens after the virus. Will we just forget everything that happened and go back to normal? Will we forget about the families that are struggling? Will we forget about the overworked nurses, and tired grocery store employees? I fear that people will forget what COVID revealed in our nation and world. COVID blew open the holes in our health care and jobs system that have been there for years. It set our education system on fire, even more so than it already was. Are people and politicians going to forget what happened?
I don’t think this generation will forget at least. I think we’ll all feel around for our masks for a while. I think we’ll all have some kind of reflex when someone starts coughing or sneezing. We’ll all probably be wary about how many people we’re spending time with for a long while. I hope this new consciousness doesn’t go away. I hope no employer ever asks or pressures people to come in sick again. I hope people feel less guilty about calling out sick! I think COVID helped us see what’s important to us.
For me, I think that family, friends, and food are important to me. I cannot wait to go out and have margaritas with my friends as we destroy some chips and salsa. I cannot wait to have a family trip down to Florida to see my grandparents again. I also can’t wait to garden. I’m looking at the seeds I’ve started for this season and I think about what they mean to me. Planting a garden helped me remember that life was still happening; not everything was stopped. I’m planting this garden with the same intention as last year, to remember that there will always be life happening somewhere. Even though that life feels worthless sometimes when it’s events and meetups over Zoom week after week, it's something; it’s better than no contact at all.
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