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What a decade this last year has been

At the end of a year since the world turned upside down, I am taking time for reflection

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A pedestrian wearing a mask to protect against the spread on COVID-19 passes murals painted on a boarded-up business in downtown Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

A year ago, I was in the country of Colombia working with Venezuelan refugees when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By March 12, 2020, there were 121,564 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with 4,373 deaths, but only 1% of those deaths were in the U.S. A lot of people, myself included, still didn’t think it was that serious. 

For me, that started to change when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started bringing missionaries home, closing temples and then suspending church meetings worldwide. Maybe this virus was going to be different. 

I look back now with some chagrin at my naiveté, although I was most certainly not alone in thinking this would be a short-term thing. I thought about lessons we had learned from a pandemic at the beginning of April. Um, yeah. Were we learning some things a few weeks in? Sure. But like any traumatizing event, the early days are characterized by shock and numbness. We thought we knew what we were in for. We had no idea.

Looking back over the past year, we’ve learned a lot both collectively and individually. 

We’ve learned this virus is truly like no other virus. It can be asymptomatic, feel like a cold, making you sicker than you’ve ever been, to killing you or your loved ones. It attacks different people in different ways — really different. There are more than 100 reported long-haul symptoms. Scientists are still learning — and so is the virus. It has mutated (as viruses do) multiple times. Right now in Brazil, there’s a new deadly surge, with a new variant. 

In many ways, it feels to me like we are a bit premature in our victory dance. This is one reason why. What a shame it would be to spike the football before we actually reach the end zone. The virus is still spreading. Utah has hit a plateau in its number of cases. Utah County, where I live, has both the highest infection rates and the lowest vaccination rates in the state. And even though the Utah Legislature put an end date to mandatory mask-wearing, I’m pretty sure the virus doesn’t care. I mean, it’s like trying to legislate the law of gravity. Just because you decree it doesn’t mean you actually control it. 

Some businesses will stop requiring masks, and others won’t. Gov.r Spencer Cox asked Utahns, again, for a measure of patience as we move through the next little while. Lifting the mask mandate doesn’t give you the right to be rude. “If you go into a business and they are requiring you to wear masks, wear masks,” he said. “Don’t yell at the clerk. Don’t yell at the store manager. Don’t make a fool of yourself because you don’t want to wear a mask.” He also added, “We live in a society and we should care about other people. If you don’t care about other people, then don’t go to places where other people are.”

We’ve also learned that the United State has some deep fault lines — they were there before the pandemic, but this virus uncovered them in unprecedented ways. Racism, sexism, ageism, ableism — they’ve been on full, ugly, divisive display this year. 

Sometimes, a total reset can be a gift (after it stops being awful).

We’ve also learned that, like Mr. Rogers’ mom said, we can look for and find the helpers. The nonprofit world has been hit hard over the last year. Donations dropped dramatically — but those helpers are still doing everything they can to meet the needs of the people they serve. Utahns stepped up last spring and sewed 5 million masks. Health care workers have consistently shown caring, bravery and compassion, in spite of the overwhelming task they’ve faced over the last year. 

Like many of you, I’ve ridden the roller coaster of emotions that comes with traumatic disruption of one’s life: grief, fear, anger, resignation. But there has also been joy, gratitude, hope and love. There are absolutely things I hope continue once the tsunami of this pandemic recedes. Home church, remote work, the ability to comment on legislative hearings via Zoom and cat filters for lawyers. 

Having said that, it’s important to feel all the feels. Toxic positivity is a thing. I’m a believer in gratitude, positive affirmations and looking on the bright side, but I’ve also been brought to my knees by grief at the death of a child, trauma, betrayal and other losses. I need someone to sit and cry with me during those moments, not tell me how blessed I am. 

Sometimes, a total reset can be a gift (after it stops being awful). At the end of a year since the world turned upside down, I am making an appointment with myself for some quiet time, some reflection and some journaling. I hope you can do the same. 

Holly Richardson is the editor and chief content creator at Utah Policy, a contributor to the Deseret News and a wife, mom and doctoral student trying to navigate a pandemic and its fallout.