The Star-Herald

What a difference a year makes

Who could have fathomed at the beginning that we’d survive an entire year of COVID-19 lockdown?

The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. At the end of the day on March 16, I packed up my laptop and keyboard to work from home “for a bit.”  Two or three weeks later, I returned to the office to pick up more files and paperwork. A few more weeks later, my calendar and other assorted paraphernalia.  And still later, my large plant sat in the passenger seat of my car on its way home with me.

It’s been nearly a year since then. My office is still at home. I’ve added a small computer desk, new keyboard (I wore the surface off the keys on my old one — seriously) and sundry related items. Just like at the “office” office, I have windows — except mine look out through the sunporch to the back yard. Not a bad view. I saw yellowish buds form deep green leaves, which then turned red and gold. I’ve observed birds darting and squirrels playing and leaping among the trees, and watched winter wonderland arrive, thaw and reappear.

At first time flowed, as the saying goes, like cold molasses. I felt out of my element, missing the people and routine at the office. But then concern over the disease grew as the pandemic intensified, and dire predictions of danger and death multiplied. I felt safer ensconced at home. I feared bringing the disease to my loved ones. I steeled myself to go to the grocery store, forgoing the larger big-box store for a long time. I learned cabin fever is a very real thing.  

Like everyone, though, I discovered ways to cope. We renewed some things around the house, cleaning out drawers and closets, adding some new curtains and a remodeled entry way. I got outside, reworking gardens and going for walks. 

Like many families, we learned how to share meals together, grabbing takeout and parking our cars side by side, rolling down the windows. Thanksgiving was different, to be sure, but we supported a local restaurant and celebrated it together.

Of course, there were the funny things. 

When toilet paper was scarce, I braved that big-box store nearly every day. When I found some, I bought the one or two that shoppers were allowed. A small tower of TP grew in the basement storeroom, and is there to this day (though perhaps not quite so high). My gratitude to paper companies has grown immensely.

Then there was the day I thought, “To heck with meat — what if there’s a chocolate shortage?” On the next trip to the store I bought two bags of a certain dark, smooth chocolate, and felt suddenly that however it was spinning, the world was on an axis again. 

Of course, video meetings have become the norm. They work great. Even when you forget them until five minutes after they’ve started and — on the rare morning when you lounged in late — you have to join in your pajamas. And hope no one notices your hair is flat as wet plaster on one side and looks like you stuck your finger in a socket on the other.

Looking back, we have come full circle. 

Fear has been mitigated a great deal by time and the advent of vaccines. The barrage of information — and misinformation — has been tempered by scientific voices of reason, including that of Maine’s own Dr. Nirav Shah. And hopefully we, as a family of both statewide and local media, have informed, inspired and even entertained readers with stories to help them through this time.

I have learned a lot about what lies beneath. 

Beneath our individual jobs, my coworkers and I have been able to see each other as people. It’s made us closer and increased our collaborations.  

Beneath material shortages, there is a return to simpler pursuits. With nowhere to go for late-night shopping or coffee, I’ve gotten out books, knitting and baking pans.

Above all, beneath fear, there is hope. We have come a long way and, though we must keep our guard up for now, the light we see at the end of this tunnel grows ever closer. 

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times, St. John Valley Times, Penobscot Times/Weekly and Piscataquis Observer, plus websites TheCounty.ME, FiddleheadFocus.com, thepenobscottimes.com and observerme.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com.

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