It’s hard to believe we are entering the second year of a pandemic. I can hardly wrap my head around it. I wake up every morning hoping to find myself in a different era. But it never works out.
You can’t forget about things like pandemics and simply move on with your life. Because whenever you wander into public the pandemic is waiting for you. When you watch TV, there it is. You’re reminded of COVID every time you see facemasks, sanitizer jugs, and people doing obligatory fist bumps instead of handshakes.
Centuries from today the history textbooks will call this “The Era of the Obligatory Fist Bump.” People even do fist bumps at mortgage closings now.
This has also been the era of snail mail. I personally have received more letters, emails, and postcards during this pandemic than I ever thought possible.
One of the most moving letters I received during the lockdowns was from Francie, which is not her real name. Francie lives in Virginia and had been estranged from her mother for 26 years.
Her mother is elderly now, and lives alone. They have always had a strained relationship.
But when the pandemic hit, Francie swallowed her pride and called her mother in California only to discover that her mother had contracted COVID and was in ICU.
The guilt swelled like bile within Francie when she heard this. That same night she drove across the United States to see her mother. And on the day they brought Francie’s mother home, it was quite a reunion. When mother and daughter saw each other they broke down.
Francie says her first embrace with her mother totally melted away 26 years’ worth of grievances in a nanosecond.
Francie’s mother reportedly rose from her wheelchair to embrace her daughter tightly and say, “Oh, I knew something good would come out of this mess.”
Eight weeks later her mother died. Francie was at her side.
I also get letters from school kids. Most of these kids are still stuck at home doing virtual school; they feel isolated from their peers. Can you imagine growing up during a pandemic?
Some of these kids sit in their bedrooms all day, staring at glowing laptop monitors, bored rigid, whereupon they get so desperate they email me. Which only shows you how confused they are.
“The doctor says I have eye strain,” wrote a 13-year-old from North Carolina, “from looking at my computer too much.”
Felicia wrote to me and said, “My lower back is always sore ‘cause I’m sitting in my room with my homework.” Felicia is 11 years old.
Also, I got a letter from a middle-aged man who hasn’t left his house—not even once—in 12 months. Before the pandemic began he was diagnosed with severe obsessive compulsive disorder. He was already washing his hands every five minutes and refusing to touch doorknobs. But now? Well, let’s just say it’s been a long year.
But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about the messages I get. Because ironically, the majority of mail I receive is about joyous things. About little miracles. About people who have managed to find cheerfulness during hell.
Take Jane. This was the year that Jane decided to start painting. She began by watching online videos, reading books, practicing hours each day. Now she paints all the time.
Oh, and Jane is 94 years old.
I know another man who took up the guitar during this pandemic. He is a single father who beat COVID after being intubated in the ICU. When he got home he saw his childhood guitar sitting in his hallway, practically calling to him.
“I thought about that guitar a lot in the hospital,” he says.
One young dad named Adam wrote to me about getting fired from his high-powered marketing job in a good firm. He had to move his wife and two kids out of their house. Then his car was repossessed. The family landed in a one-bedroom apartment without Internet or cable TV.
Adam found a job roasting coffee beans for minimum wage, and instead of being embarrassed by his new temporary life station, he made a serious effort to appreciate his new circumstances.
He began taking his family tent camping on weekends, he planted a window-box garden, he started making cheese. Sure, he was working less and earning fewer pennies, but his blood pressure also went down, and so did his bad cholesterol.
He says, “I think this pandemic probably saved us.”
Sharon and her husband claim the same thing. Sharon divorced her husband two years ago and decided that she would never speak to him again. But years went by and neither Sharon nor her ex had been dating anyone else. Neither had they entertained the idea.
“Sometimes you just love someone and nobody else will do,” said Sharon.
Then the pandemic began. The first thing Sharon did when she saw the entire world falling apart was call her ex-husband to say, “I don’t want to live without you.”
They were remarried to one another two weeks later.
Sharon writes, “If it weren’t for this year I might have never realized how much I needed him.”
So I’m running out of room here. But as we round into the second year of a global pandemic, and you find yourself giving obligatory fist bumps instead of handshakes, and you feel sad, or you feel like complaining about the terrible things that have happened…
Remember what Francie’s mother said.