I suppose that we all believed at the end of February, 2020, that we would work to contain the coronavirus for a couple of months and then life would become normal and we would tuck all thoughts of illness and strange happenings into our memory books along with photos of our travels and fun times with friends and families. One year later we are not just exhausted. We are shellshocked. The word “unprecedented” has become common to our lexicon as we attempt to describe each new event that flies in the face of any attempts at complacency. As we look at five hundred thousand deaths from COVID 19 in the United States we mourn the loss of so many beautiful souls and of our own innocence. When we add all of the other unbelievable events that have occurred during the space of only a year we wonder if we will ever again be able to take anything for granted. We have fallen down into Alice’s rabbit hole and no matter how hard we try it feels as though we will never again escape to the way of life we once enjoyed.
My husband Mike and I spent our last typical day on February 28, 2020. We had lunch with my brothers and sisters-in-law and then played games with them for the remainder of the afternoon. From there we went to the Houston Rodeo Barbecue Cook off and met up with friends. We left that event feeling so happy and filled with plans for the coming months that included a trip to Scotland, an Aggie ring ceremony for two of my grandsons and an Easter Sunday celebration with the extended family. Of course none of that came to pass and we spent the next many months mostly hunkered down in our home and finding ways to stay entertained and in touch with those we love from afar. We became Zoom fanatics and even took a continuing education course from Rice University from the comfort of our living room.
Weeks and then months passed as we watched the horrific death of George Floyd, a native of Houston, Texas, our own home town, who was eventually buried only a few miles from our house. We witnessed the protests and then a surge in COVID cases all across the world. We saw so many parts of the western United States go up in flames and hurricanes seemed to be breeding like flies. At one point we prepared for a possible storm in our own backyard and felt grateful when it developed further east from us. All the while the deaths kept coming, some from COVID and others from just the natural rhythm of life. We worried over friends and relatives who came down with the virus and had some close calls that kept us praying morning, afternoon, and night. We became accustomed to staying home or making “no human contact” trips in our trailer.
Every special occasion was different but we celebrated in our own way Zooming from on household to another and texting enough to create entire novels. We watched with an admitted bit of envy as others carried on with their lives with less caution than we did but kept to our routine in the hopes that we might sooner rather than later see an end to all of the suffering that was happening all around us. Then there was our national election which, just as with everything else, was “unprecedented” both in the numbers of people who turned out to vote and in the strange aftermath in which the incumbent president was unwilling to concede defeat.
We dined with two of our grandsons on Thanksgiving day instead of the extended family affair that we usually enjoyed. Christmas Eve became yet another Zoom gathering as did Christmas Day. We were proud of our resilience and relieved that we had been spared from being part of the horrific number of deaths that grew and grew. Then came news of the vaccine release. Somehow it felt as though we had seen the worst of what we had to endure but as with everything else there were still “unprecedented” events and struggles ahead.
What should have been a quiet rendering of the electoral votes for president and vice president turned into one of the most dangerous moments of our democracy as supporters of Donald Trump stormed the halls of the capitol determined to prevent what they saw as a steal of their votes. It was for me the most terrifying moment of the entire year and quite possibly my lifetime. I had seen a presidential assassination and the terrorist destruction of the Twin Towers but this threat had come from within the country and it felt like an attempt to overthrow all that was sacred in our Constitution. But for the courage of the men and women of the House and Senate we might have seen the crumbling of our democratic processes. Instead they persisted in certifying the vote even after their own lives had been threatened.
Like so many across the country I found that getting access to the vaccine was not nearly as easy as I had hoped it would be. With the help of family members and friends I finally secured appointments for myself and my husband but I noted how adept I had to be at finding websites and entering information quickly before the slots filled. My anxieties reached a fever pitch when the scheduling for my second dose seemed uncertain but when I finally felt the prick of the needle sending the final vaccine into my body I felt a flood of emotions and gratitude. Surely, I believed, life would become calm and then maybe even a bit more normal.
Then came the Senate impeachment hearings which were fascinating but also frightening as we learned even more about events on January 6, when the Capitol became a battleground. The chronological recitation of what had occurred both during the campaigns for the presidency and in its aftermath was chilling and I found it difficult to believe that anyone hearing the testimony would be able to vote any other way than to indict Donald Trump and then make it certain that he would never again be able to run for office. Not so surprisingly only six Republicans were willing to repudiate the former leader of their party and some actually admitted that Trump was guilty of inciting the riot but hid behind an argument that impeaching him was not allowed by the Constitution. They reinforced the lies that somehow the election had been illegitimate and sent a message to the people of the United States and all of the world that worries me beyond words.
I became very quiet about all that was happening. I focused on puppy dogs, kittens, flowers, happy thoughts. My discouragement and cynicism was unprecedented but I kept it to myself. My Pollyanna ways seemed to have died and I was determined to be the happiness that I wished to see in the world. I was doing a great job of that until Texas froze over last week and with the wintery weather came “unprecedented” suffering all across my state.
We learned more than we ever wanted to know about ERCOT and power grids and what happens when electricity goes out for days. I have never been so cold in my life as my my home cooled down to forty degrees and maybe even lower when I was sleeping. I managed because I am an old tent camper and I have gear that most people do not possess. I wore layers of clothing and at night slept under a pile of blankets and quilts. Because we had purchased a small generator during the summer in case of a hurricane we kept our refrigerator running and were able to charge our phones and laptops. Our gas stove kept us eating well. Our water continued to come from our faucets and thus far we have had no leaks in the pipes inside our home. Only our irrigation system is showing signs of stress. We were fortunate but the suffering and damage to the people of my state was “unprecedented” and watching it unfold nearly broke me.
It was only as I saw the incredible spirit of kindness and compassion that unfolded as neighbor helped neighbor and people came from other states to provide assistance that I saw that in spite of all of the grief, destruction, uncertainty and death of the past year we keep rising to the “unprecedented” challenges. Somewhere somehow we keep finding ways to keep calm and carry on, but we are indeed very tired.
I do not know what lies ahead but I believe that we will surely keep pushing until we find solutions for the problems of COVID, climate change, and our political systems. Together we will climb out of our rabbit hole and when we do our joy will be “unprecedented.”