As we emerge from the cocoon of the coronavirus on the East End, the range of emotions we are seeing among our friends runs the gamut, from all-encompassing relief to disbelief to pessimism about the proximity of the next disaster we may face.
Those of us who have lost loved ones, in particular, seem to find the rush around us to return to normalcy to be an affront to the reality of the loss they have experienced in the past year, a loss that is no less personally devastating for having been shared with so many other people.
The old phrase that “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” comes to mind. It’s a brutal phrase and one that, in our modern world, we often forget was uttered by Joseph Stalin, as his government’s policies caused the starvation of between five and eight million people. There’s no room for this type of dismissiveness in a country as individualistic as the United States. It will take time to grieve these deaths fully, and we need to allow people who have lost the most the time and space to grieve.
As we write this, Suffolk County alone has lost nearly 3,400 souls. It’s only in the past month that we had a two-day spell without a single death here, after a winter in which, despite all we’ve learned about treating Covid in the past year, the toll still kept climbing, day after day, throughout the season.
The relief among those of us who have survived is real, and should be celebrated. It will inevitably come along with some guilt that we were the ones to survive. After all, survival is in many ways a luxury for those who could afford to hide from the world all year.
But that period of isolation will undoubtably carry its own long-term scars.
It will take time to see how kids who struggled in school before the pandemic, left farther behind as teachers, out of necessity, adopted unproven teaching tools, fare in their years of education left ahead. Parents who have spent the year fearful of letting their kids out in the world will need to learn to trust that it is safe for kids to play with their friends. Lost incomes, lost businesses and lost dreams may take quite some time to recover.
It’s tempting to throw ourselves back into the rat race, to try to catch up to where we were before the pandemic caught us off guard, and to even pretend it never happened as we set our blinders on and try to force a better future.
The damage many of us have done to our health by postponing medical care has yet to fully reveal itself. We’ve seen untreated cancers here kill quickly in recent weeks, while other lingering health issues continue to cause trepidation, as many of us still bristle reflexively at the thought of entering a doctor’s office.
In a world filled with disaster, we’ve all learned a lot about resiliency in the past year, and it’s in reminding ourselves of this resiliency that we will heal and move forward and face the next potential disaster with less fear. We’ve got this.
Our neighbors are just beginning to find each other again, to cautiously embrace on the street, to walk their dogs alongside one another and to tentatively make plans to get together for a beer after work or an afternoon tea. Large scale events are returning, with reduced capacity, this summer, and we believe we’ve all learned enough in the past year to keep these events safe. Young people here, like young people everywhere, will continue to procrastinate about being vaccinated, but we believe they will come around soon, when getting vaxxed becomes as easy as calling an Uber.
Now is the time to reach out, to handle one another with care, as we learn how our relationships have been changed through this experience, and as we learn what the people we love will need from us to thrive going forward. Take the time to listen and lend a hand, before the world sets back into motion on the path it had been following before all this began.