Reacclimating to Society After the Pandemic

By all accounts, the pandemic has more or less run its course. It seems like in a few months’ time we’ll be able to get back to normal activity, if we haven’t been able to already depending on where you’re located. That’s not to say that we’ll never think about the word ‘Covid’ again, but rather that we’ll just move on to fresher and newer problems which will concurrently exist with this particular problem in the background.

It’s weird to even think that given that things looked a little more positive before. The world looked fresher and more full of possibility. Bonds seemed unbreakable because they hadn’t been tested to the breaking point.

It turns out none of that is true. Every person, thing, and object has a breaking point. Bonds and relationships can fray or snap altogether, and the lens in which you view the world is totally different from one that you viewed the world in a reality where a pandemic didn’t force people to alter the course of their normal lives.

Like with any cataclysmic event, everyone has had a different experience. Many people chose to revel and ignore the potential for illness – people even did this during the Black Death so it’s no surprise that this happened here. And many people chose to cower in their homes and apartments out of fear of getting sick or spreading illness to their loved ones.

For fifteen months, I largely chose the latter course. Aside for a few camping trips and a handful of trips to visit family and close friends, my wife and I dutifully played the role prescribed to us by responsible society – stay inside. But staying inside – despite having caught Covid at the grocery store – may have protected us physically, but certainly did not protect us mentally.

For day in and day out, we heard sirens – ambulance, police, and otherwise – from the bowels of our Brooklyn apartment. Even now, sirens punctuate the air, a cruel reminder of just how much things have changed, and how little remains of the world I once knew.

Many people may think that the pandemic is about control. About government conspiracy, about covering things up, about wresting influence over everyone’s lives as a way to further redistribute power to the haves from the have nots. And sure, some of that did happen. But to me, the pandemic is about incompetence, about the unique human ability to fuck things up in a way that affects billions of people.

It’s hard to continue to live, at least ‘normally,’ in a world that you know that a global fuck up is not only theoretically possible but explicitly so. Humans don’t just have the ability for incompetence, but they have the ability to callously disregard others despite or even due to that incompetence. We’re a long way off from ‘flatten the curve,’ or even any semblance of being in this together, whatever that even means anymore.

For me, I’ve just been reacclimating to society by trying to understand where my place in this new world is. I’ve gone to weddings, celebrations, and been on airplanes to numerous places across the country. And while I didn’t hate all of it, I didn’t love much of it either. While we can all still have new experiences, and will continue to do so, those experiences are ultimately marred by the fact that we know collapse is not just imminent, but that it already happened, and in some form, will probably happen again.

No matter your experience during the pandemic – where you lived, where you traveled to, and even what you did, it’s impossible to say that it didn’t impact you one way or another. It may have brought sight of what mattered to you, or may have just showed you how absurd and precarious the world was all along.

However you chose to deal with that – it’s impossible to close back up Pandora’s Box. When the shit hits the fan, you know which way the shit will slide. Knowing that fact makes it difficult to reacclimiate, but it’s also liberating. You can understand that you have a responsibility to no one – because certainly no one has a responsibility to you.

While some communities came together, more often than not, things fell apart. There’s no sense of belonging, especially as fortune-seekers moved across country to disrupt communities and seek a better quality of life at premium. In the chaos, many saw opportunity, and many saw the walls closing in.

The truth is, the pandemic was both for a lot of people – including myself. Taking advantage of the chaos does not mean you aren’t swept up in it – you’re just along for the ride. Incompetence may be the macro decisions that got us all into this in the first place, but within that Incompetence and breaking of societal bonds there was opportunity. People did what was best for themselves – without any regard for how that affected the people in their lives and the communities they disrupted.

Reacclimating to society then, is all about choice. There’s nothing to fear anymore, but the fear is everywhere. Choosing to travel overseas and risk your health for a new experience or great view is one way to do it – the ‘Yolo’ method of dealing with it. But that approach, of course, has its ups and downs, and there will never be a way to truly fathom and comprehend the scale in which things were fucked up.

While most of us have dealt with bouts of precarity in our lives, the precariousness that life under the thumb of the pandemic was is unprecedented in the modern world. There’s no comparison we can make, and no understanding or insight that we can get from all of this – at least not on a collective level. It was just a fucked up situation, and at least for myself, it is one that I’ve spent a lot of efforts to try not think about.

But with the idea of society coming back to some state of recognition, I’ve been counting down the days until I can leave New York. It’s no longer a place I recognize, and despite my upbringing here, not somewhere I enjoy or even connect with anymore. New York Strong is just another way of saying cower, die and shake your fist ineffectually at the sky while the rest of the country watches us burn and laughs.

I don’t know if I’ll ever finish reacclimating to society. Certainty, the world is still the world, but it’s not one that I feel attached to in any meaningful way. People come and go, and all you can do to stay sane is fill your life with things that matter to you. If experience is it, then so be it. Go experience the world, and try to understand the ways in which it has changed. And then you’ll have to wonder if you even recognize the difference.        

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