Life After The Pandemic

by | Aug 14, 2022

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” —Anatole France

Ever since my second Covid-19 booster vaccine I’ve been navigating a post-pandemic world. No, Covid has not disappeared, and it seems increasingly likely that we will be living with this mutating virus for the foreseeable future. But vaccines and treatment have made death and severe illness less likely for most. So, like most of my friends, I’m venturing out, returning to some activities I enjoyed before the pandemic and discovering new adventures and joys.

This post-pandemic world is not the world I thought or even dared to hope that it might look like. But it is what I have, what is here, now, to live as best I can. Recently, while talking with another writer about challenges in this post-pandemic world, we found ourselves looking back a bit nostalgically, admittedly through the proverbial rose colored glasses at 2020, the year of the pandemic shut down.

How simple life seemed in 2020: Stay home. Wear a mask in public. Wash your hands. Keep yourself and your family safe. Be kind. What else was there to do? Sure, it would not be easy. How do you protect yourself and your family from a virus that no one really understands? How do you stay safe when there is no cure, no vaccine against, a deadly virus?

Be kind. Those two words became a mantra. They became a hope, a prayer, a way of life when we did not know what to do. Be kind. Most of us did not want to infect our family, our friends, our neighbors, or the check-out person at the grocery store who showed up for work every day. Genuine kindness is a balm, a gift, a grace. It is visceral and palpable. It is also easy to recognize. So too are the “kind” saccharine words and platitudes that serve as window dressing for anger, frustration, or hurt that simmers until it explodes. It too is easy to recognize.

At the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, most people I encountered were kind: We wore masks in public. We kept our distance. We were careful – careful about washing our hands, careful about respecting other people’s personal space. We talked about the pandemic shut down as a “pause,” a temporary time, like a delayed flight – we would still get there (get back to the life we knew before the pandemic) it would just take longer. We speculated on how long the shutdown would last – 6 months seemed like a long time.

But the pandemic continued throughout 2020. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the US that year, claiming more than 350,000 people. Increasingly that year I began wondering what a post-pandemic world would look like. Somewhere in November or December, I began to realize that life as I knew it before the pandemic was forever changed. Others – hospitality workers, the people who cleaned office buildings for example – were forced to come to that realization much sooner. For many people, their jobs were gone and would not return once the pandemic ended. For some, the shutdown provided a chance to reassess their lives, how they wanted to live. Still others simply had to find a way to stay alive.

We may have all “been in this together,” but if the pandemic were an ocean, some people were tucked away in luxury yachts. Some steered sailboats while others rowed canoes and many dog- paddled, hoping to stay afloat. There was the ugly political divide: those who denied the pandemic was real; those who refused to wear masks. There was also the cultural divide. The racial/ethnic divide. And maybe most important of all, the socio/economic divide.

These divisions are still very much with us as we begin to discover what kind of post-pandemic world. People who still wear masks are ridiculed. People who no longer wear masks are ridiculed. My life is as complex and complicated as it was before the pandemic. But there are changes. I am one of the lucky ones who has had the privilege of deciding how I want to live – what’s important, what no longer serves a useful purpose. I’m trying to shed the distractions (for one, I’m a news junkie, and that is no longer serving me or my mental health very well), and re-focus on two important parts of my life that became even more important during the pandemic: 1) my relationship with the natural world, our earth that we do not always treat kindly, and 2) my inner life, both heart and mind, the creative work that I love. During the pandemic I spent more time outside and found myself paying close attention. I also turned inward, looking for ways to challenge myself and my writing.

For today, this post pandemic world is one where I am “making the path by walking.” The only thing I know for sure is that the world as I knew it before the pandemic has changed forever. And the changes, both personal, and global will continue.

Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the poets I admire, for her art, her compassion, for the way she sees the world:

Gate A-4
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to 
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just 
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I 
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4” from Honeybee.
Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye

8 Comments

  1. Joan

    Dear Pat,
    I love that story by Naomi..I’ve read it before, but it’s always good to be reminded of such kindnesses.
    And your insights!yes, the pandemic was hard..maybe not as hard on me as on others because I am by nature a hibernation. And zoom! Zoom opened up a world to me that excised distance and cost of overnight stays had held back from me..interaction with other poets! Readings to attend, to perform at..all of this.
    Then my daughter became I’ll…not covidbut I was with her for two months..again zoom helped my sanity allowing me to bathe in the creative energies of others and stone my own creative engine.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Zoom, yes! Thank you, Joan for reminding me what a treasure the zoom has been! I great way to stay connected.

      Reply
  2. Mary Sorrells

    This is beautiful, deep, real and loving. Your reflection, followed by Naomi Shihab Nye, touched me deeply. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  3. Pat Riviere-Seel

    Thank you, Mary, for your always generous and loving words. Love you.

    Reply
  4. Bill Griffin

    This beautiful story inspires me to be more courageous about reaching out to strangers. And your comments, Pat, are so solid. Steady. Grounded.

    Reply
  5. Catherine Carter

    That’s one of my very favorite stories: the sacrament of powdered sugar. 🙂

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Bill, you are one of the kindest and welcoming people I know. I keep trying for solid, steady, and grounded. Thank you, my friend.

      Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      One of my favorite stories too, Catherine. Indeed, the sacrament of powdered sugar!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.