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Taking note: Looking back

My unease grew as I scrolled through the news notifications on my phone on the evening of March 11, 2020, the lit-up screen a bright contrast to the surrounding darkness.

“Tom Hanks tests positive for COVID-19.”

“NBA suspends season.”

“Restrictions announced on travel from Europe.”

This series of headlines seemed to mark a definite transition in the world. I remember thinking that this day would divide my life into two distinct halves. I did not realize just how true this would become.

In the following days, I would realize the aforementioned notifications were hardly shocking headlines in light of what was on the horizon. News of mounting closures, cancellations, restrictions, postponements, emergency orders would soon become nonstop, and eventually, commonplace.

That series of days, now about a year ago, changed life as we knew it. Our definitions of the unimaginable evolved as the days, weeks and months wore on. But in those early days, the shock, the panic and the fear were so palpable. Hospitals filled up, streets emptied, travelers were trapped miles from home, ships became stranded at sea, lines at banks and grocery stores grew as panic mounted. There were so many moments that seemed like they should have been fictional events, scenes out of a book or movie.

In those early days, it felt like a singular, major disastrous event was taking place. It seemed like something devastating and intense that could be conquered quickly if we all just worked together. I think we all know the outcome has been a little different. This last year has been a long, slow, harrowing collection of disasters, spread out over space and time. People have been divided and isolated. Many have lost their lives. Many have lost someone they loved.

This last year has sometimes felt like an eternity, but other times, it feels like it has been composed of just a series of fleeting moments. And as the first anniversary of the pandemic takes place, we are all trying to make sense of everything that happened over the past year. It’s not easy, especially when a long, slow and global crisis unfolds. It can warp our sense of time and our sense of personhood. When I look back at words I wrote in columns and journal entries over the past year, I have a window back into my psyche as these events unfolded. I can read my writing, remember my thoughts, feelings and actions. But still, the person I was at the beginning of this seems strangely mysterious, a different version of myself that seems somehow difficult to comprehend. The events of the last year have changed our lives, our worlds and ourselves. Amid all the rapid changes and drawn-out trauma, it can be challenging to remember and understand how that happened. But when we record and reflect upon our shared histories, we can try to comprehend the seismic shifts, the little changes, and everything in between that brought us to where we are today.

Due to this, I’ve included below a column that I wrote during the early days of the pandemic. It was published March 20, 2020, just one week after COVID-19 struck Michigan and altered our lives forever. I hope it can serve as a reminder of what life was like during the early days of the pandemic, as well as the historic value of journaling. The value of this record has become even more apparent today, exactly a year after I started the journal. It served as a much-needed outlet, as well as a reference that assisted in the writing of this column and the March 2020 column printed below.

Words in Crisis

Everything has changed in unimaginable ways over the past week. Schools closed, businesses and organizations shuttered, events and gatherings canceled, seemingly endless new changes and losses with every passing day.

It’s hard to accept the strange new reality, especially when social distancing can be so very hard on the heart. It’s not easy to say good-bye for an indefinite amount of time. It’s not easy to say good-bye when the future holds so many unknowns. It’s not easy to say good-bye for so many practical reasons. It’s not easy to say good-bye for so many matters of the heart. But if we can, we must.

Because it is better to lose the ones we love for days, weeks or months instead of losing them forever to this pandemic. This is what I’ve been telling myself, over and over, as the good-byes in my own life mount each day. But if we can’t be together, if we can’t do most of the normal day-to-day activities that usually fill our lives, what do we do? This is a question most people have never had to deal with. And the answers to this question are a little different for everyone. But in our collective search for answers to this question, we can find so many opportunities to learn from each other and connect with others from the safe distance the written word provides.

So I’d like to share one of the things I’ve been doing to keep myself as safe, calm, happy and entertained as possible, just in case it might help someone else. I’ve started up a journal again. I’ve always dabbled in journaling, sometimes keeping it up for months or years only to take a break for months or years and then pick it back up again. But this seemed like the perfect time to start a new journal.

Journaling gives us a voice and a place to share our hopes, fears, and experiences when there aren’t many people nearby to listen. There are many great reasons to keep a journal at this time beyond that fact. But one particularly resonates with me: By keeping a journal, we create individual, personal historical records of a pandemic that is likely to be long remembered. We don’t know what the future will bring, but I think it’s likely that our collective personal writings from this period will be of interest to future generations. You will also be doing yourself a tremendous favor by recording the events of your daily life, the news, or some combination of the two. You will have a record of what happened during this period in your life. This is particularly important, as when situations develop and escalate this quickly, it’s often easy to lose perspective on the timing of events. To put it simply, things can become a blur in times of crisis. It’s easy to lose track of the exact order of events and what the situation looked like two days ago, versus a week ago, versus today.

I’ve found this to be true looking back at my journal entries from when I started it a few days ago. It was just announced that schools would be closed for three weeks and that gatherings of 250+ were prohibited. Yet, Michigan only had a handful of confirmed cases, restaurants and bars were still operating normally and there were roughly 2,200 cases in the entire U.S.

Now, compare that to today’s situation. It might give you some added perspective on how quickly everything is changing.

But whether you’re journaling for yourself or future generations, it’s certainly worth taking some time to reflect through writing during such a challenging period.

You might find a silver lining. You might find yourself uncovering and confronting difficult emotions and situations you didn’t even realize were occurring. You might find a great way to pass a handful of hours each week. You might create a key historical record that informs future generations.

So please remember: Even when we are alone, we still have stories to tell. Even when we are alone, we have so much to give. We are alone, together. And the written word is one of the strongest remaining threads connecting us. So please, dear reader, write it down. Don’t let us forget.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cecilia Brown is city editor at The Mining Journal. She lives in Marquette and can be found hiking if the weather’s nice, or curled up with a book if not. Contact her at cbrown@miningjournal.net.

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