With the first of March just behind us, it has now been March for roughly seventeen years. Which is a drop in the bucket compared to the two hundred years we’ve spent under the corona bubble. You know, since masks and hand sanitizers and six feet stickers on the floor have become our norm? Since the Mad Max-ian sort of life path we’ve been expected to live was set into place? Since toilet paper, Lysol spray, and Zoom meetings became the topics of the utmost importance? Since we all survived the end of the world by literally Netflix and chilling?
Ok, you got me, I’m a sucker for hyperbole. While two centuries might be a stretch and we aren’t quite a nomad motorcycle jacket crazy society yet, it has been long enough to create a distinct separation of life into the Before and After Times.
In the Before TImes, we would just do things. Together things. GROUP THINGS. Any damn thing you wanted. And a bunch of things you didn’t.
Like school function things? Remember sitting in a gym with an ass of other parents while children were given awards for obtusely mundane things? Like hundreds of people just breathing and sweating and clapping and coughing in one area, all together. And it was commonplace! It was expected! So were back to school bashes,homecomings, and tours of campuses. We were expected to gather in large groups and just…be there. Not actively listening, but showing up and playing the part. Looking like we cared and weren’t thinking about the next place we had to go on the never ending list of places to go.
What about buffets at restaurants? Being a Southerner, this is a big area of gatherance and fellowship. Not many Sundays pass without dishing out fried okra or General Tso’s chicken from a heated dish onto plate after plate of towering mixed food. Do you remember the insanity of it? We would all go stand really close in line and use the same big spoons or tongs to get some food that other people had just used. There were no gloves, no sanitation stations, just our grubby hands all up on each other grabbing carbs and germs and who knows what the hell else.
But the Before Times weren’t the Best of Times. While it does seems now, looking back from the After Times, that we were just walking around living our absolute best fucking lives, we all know we weren’t. We were stressed and worried, fearful and depressed. We had tons of struggles, fears and issues that stressed us the hell out. Life was hard, just without the extra layer of the After Times. Anxiety and Mental Illness has been and will forever be evil motherfuckers. But what we didn’t know was that the speakers were about to get turned up to 11.
The After Times took all those troubles we were used to walking around with and found a way to make them all demons. It added weight to the baggage we had long been carrying.
Work sucks? Well now you can’t go. Or going to work could potentially end your life. Just to be sure, wear all this PPE just in case. Now we had to watch a virus sweep across the world.
Don’t feel like going out? Good! You’re quarantined!
Is that a sniffle just allergies or a deadly virus? Come on down and get tested! Oh wait? You’re American? How much money do you have?
Don’t worry about being forced into those awkward hugs, you can’t touch anyone. Ever.
Wear a mask. Because there are others who won’t because their sovereignty is too “important” (read that as fragile) to be inconvenienced even in the face of millions of dead.
Fear became the monster that spread through our daily actions. Uncertainty became our driving force. The After Times became filled with grabbing onto anything at all just to try to stay afloat. That’s why mass panic buying of “safety” items became a thing. People were hoping to cling to anything that might ward off the silent beast just a little while longer. Even if it meant acting irrational and standing on the necks of others. The After Times, not matter what they are the after times of, always, ALWAYS brings out the worst in the human condition.
And now, here we are. Floating in the shallow end of the After Times with the shore possibly in sight. It’s still pretty far away and once we land it will never be the same as the Before Times but that’s okay. Those of us who are willing to learn from these events will remember how we got through it. We’ll remember the good parts and more importantly, the dark parts too. The lessons we take will make us stronger. Just like the ones before us figured out surviving the plague is never really just about the plague. It’s about the surviving part.
Being able to let go of the Before Times and realize that there’s no going back to them has to be accepted. Rebuilding and reprogramming how our brains work, how we work as animals is what the After Times are for. This is a period in history that we are carving. These After Times are brand new. It’s our responsibility to make them the best they can be.
It’s not going to be easy. From here on out, nothing is going to be like it used to be. These masks may be permanent. My addiction to hand sanitizer might be too. What this has done to not only mine but all of our mental states? That’s going to something that we will all have to unpack together. If there’s anything these times have taught us, it’s that regardless of the physicality of it all, we are all in this together.
More so I think than we were in the Before Times.
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