When you ask me what the pandemic was like, here’s what I’ll say

Today, I am writing to you to talk about the part when we decided to change the world.

pandemic letter

To my child,

I know you are grown now, but there was a time when you were very small—a time you were too small to be able to remember— when a great illness, the coronavirus pandemic, swept through the world.

You've heard us talk about it a hundred times. You've seen the pictures and the boxes of artwork we made during that time. You've learned about it in your history class and your economics, biology, political science and psychology classes.


But I wonder if those platforms have taught you what the experience was really like—so I am going to tell you here.

In short, it was awful.

Problems that we had ignored boiled quickly to the surface, like the lava of a not-so dormant volcano. Racism, economic disparities, sexism and so much more reared their monstrous heads and the fallout was severe.

People hurt, and people died. Things we once took for granted transformed overnight into impossibilities—quick access to food, toilet paper, security—it was just… gone. Everyone was stressed, exhausted, bored and overwhelmed, all at the same time. There was an undercurrent of mistrust. And there was fear—so much fear.

But that's not why I am writing to you. Today, I am writing to you to talk about the other part: The part when we decided to change the world.

There was this palpable energy among the human collective when we exhaled deeply and said enough. This is not how we will exist anymore. This is the moment we start doing better.

It was awful, but we chose love.

And so, we stayed home.

We gathered together on Zoom. I know it seems archaic now, but I can still remember how excited everyone was when we learned we could use different backgrounds in our video conferences.

Companies, museums, schools, zoos, fitness instructors and so many others came out of the woodwork to offer free digital education, exercise classes and fun programs to get us through the days.

We went for walks—so many walks. People bought baby chicks. They planted gardens and learned to grow their own food—and in doing so, they remembered how to tend to and value the earth.

We allowed ourselves and each other the space to have emotions. Before this pandemic, we, as a society, weren't great at allowing room for uncomfortable feelings. But forced with no other choice, we learned to sit in our discomfort. To be okay with the shadows. And because of this, we grew.

We stopped accepting the societal issues that we ignored for so long. We picked our causes and we rose up and we fought because we vowed that never again would we allow anyone to be treated as if they were somehow less than.

We thanked our healthcare workers, grocery store employers, sanitation workers and hundreds of others with cities erupting in applause and fire engine salutes.We realized that maybe that was the way they should always be treated, not just during a crisis.

We mourned for people we never met.

We acknowledged the work of parents. There was a time, my love, when work and family were like oil and water. If you shook them really hard, they'd kind of work together, but without attention, they separated back into two very distinct matters. But the pandemic taught us that it was possible to have both, at the same time. We had video conferences with kids running in and out. We said things like, "I need to sign off to put my kids to bed." And never again did we question 'what a stay at home parent does all day'—not ever.

We got creative—I don't mean with hobbies, though, certainly there were some who learned new ones. I mean with our resources. We transformed company cultures in a matter of days to prove that working from home and flexible schedules were possible, after all. We learned to make do with what we had. Car manufacturers learned how to make ventilators. Engineers turned old breast pumps into ventilators, like magic. Scientists learned how to make a new vaccine.

We stopped wearing real pants. Yes, this was the moment in history when we collectively decided that leggings and sweatpants would evermore be acceptable in all settings. You're welcome.

We helped each other—my goodness, did we help each other. Kids made pictures of rainbows and put them in their windows to cheer people up. We made masks out of T-shirts and gave them to people who needed them. We shopped for people who couldn't get out to the stores. We made memes to make each other laugh. And when we called our friends and family members to ask, "How are you?", we meant it.

We stopped being so hard on ourselves. We gave ourselves grace when we let you kids watch too many shows or when we let our diets slip. We said we were going to declutter our closets, but we didn't—and we didn't beat ourselves up for it. We just said, "I am doing the best I can, and that is enough." And for the first time maybe ever, we believed it.

Please understand that I am not glossing over this period of time—it was horrible, and the suffering was very real. It may seem like a distant memory, but the consequences of that time will be felt for generations. There was terrible loss all around us.

I never want you to forget the lessons we learned because it can all be undone so quickly.

I want you to know all of this because I want you to understand the moment in our history when the world as we knew it changed forever. When we found out just how resilient we were. When we chose, again and again, to be on the right side of history, to do the right thing.

We chose love. And my child, that will never be the wrong choice.

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