I don’t regularly listen to National Public Radio. In fact, in the past year, I can count the number of times spent listening to anything on NPR on one hand. Last week was either my fourth or fifth. While reaching down to grab something from my chair, I brushed the radio’s ‘on’ button. The NPR station began with the story, March 11th, 2020: The Day Everything Changed

“A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the enormous changes in our lives have become unremarkable: The collection of fabric masks. Visits with friends or family only in small outdoor gatherings. Working or learning from home. Downtowns deserted at noon on a weekday.

While some changes happened gradually, there was one day [March 11th, 2020] that marked the beginning of the new normal.”

For a few minutes, I sat fixated as NPR host Marco Werman took the listeners through what changed. By all accounts, the World Health Organization formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic around March 11th, 2020. Since then, the magnitude of loss has been stunning. Today, nearly 120 million global COVID-19 cases and 2.6 million deaths later, I kept thinking of all that had changed. Sure, one could focus upon key political facts: Chinese officials actively blamed Americans for starting the virus while the Trump administration blamed China. Still, my focus narrowed. The question I asked myself was, “How has my life changed during the year of COVID?”

Pre-pandemic, life was pretty much just like everyone; every person I know would get up, go to work, do their thing. There were anniversaries, births, deaths, Fourth of July celebrations, Thanksgiving, Christmas celebrations, New Year resolutions. We sat in theaters and gobbled popcorn while watching the latest Marvel Comic movie. Some moved to better positions, and some moved out of state. A few got married. A few got divorced. 

Post-pandemic was different. In the year following March 11th, 2020, I lost two coworkers to COVID. In the past three months, I lost my ex-wife, a mother-in-law, and father to COVID. I once wrote that I would probably die from COVID. Instead, I continually tested negative and received two vaccination shots [Pfizer vaccine]. Others have yet to receive one. I still have a job. Others do not. I had a tumor removed [a month before pandemic declaration] and lived. Others had tumor surgery and died. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and am still functionally able to work. Others were diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and their world collapsed. I suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack (fancy name for stroke) on October 18th. I survived and completely recovered seven days later. Two thousand one hundred fifty-nine others also suffered a stroke on October 18th, but three hundred and sixty died. Statistically speaking, only two hundred and sixteen of us who suffered a stroke on October 18th wholly recovered. Why?

I can’t explain it. I cannot explain the ‘why.’ Why did l survive and others did not? I cannot explain what has been taken. Hell, I am still trying to name all the loved ones, jobs, relationships, and last chances. It is too vast. When I look back, I shape my ‘whys‘ into different odds and made running deals with myself. Maybe justifying it in some weird mathematical formula makes easier to live with. Yet, to many a family, they’ll reach for their Bible and read of the ‘rapture,’ and in moment of breathlessness they’ll whisper, “Been there God. Done it.”

Ever since becoming a paramedic in the military, I’ve wrestled with loss. Many of us lost somebody, but many also lost something. A job, a relationship, a big break, a last chance, a final goodbye. Instead, final goodbyes came via FaceTime and many a body was placed into the hospital morgue, only to be cremated, and either returned or disposed. And one moment, just before Christmas, I pondered, “When this is over, what if, anything, will change?”

In our daily lives, we hold onto memories of times past, probably as a way to bargain with ourselves. We’ll repeat old mantras taught by elders, “… that this too shall pass,” and look forward to the future when we can hug and laugh, rediscover others, and kiss loved ones. More importantly, I hope all of us are realizing that change is needed in our lives [figuratively globally]. Hopefully, this pandemic offers us the opportunity to reevaluate ourselves, to respect others, search for a source of strength and rebuild better lives.