Back from vacation! But back to ‘normal’? COVID’s still here

“There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

— Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Cape Town, Mass., June 1966

By Stephan Drew

I had an absolutely wonderful vacation! It was so nice to get away for a week, relax and enjoy nature. We stayed at Black Mountain in Fletcher, N.C., and it was beautiful! The temperature never got above 65 during the day and was down in the 40s at night. The air was so crisp and clean and the breezes so refreshing. I noticed something else as well. I’ve traveled all around the world and the people in Fletcher are among the nicest I’ve ever met. Everyone I encountered met me with a big smile and a friendly greeting. And they were so helpful. If we had a question or needed directions, they took their time and gave me all the information I required, without any impatience or even a hint that they had other things to do. At first I thought maybe it’s a haven for retirees. There were many but I suppose at least 60-65 percent of the people there were under 30 and they were just as relaxed and helpful. I’ve heard that the air is thinner the higher you go. So it may just be a “mountain air” sort of thing. Either way, it truly was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back next year! But, after a vacation, it’s natural to need a day or two to readjust and get back into your old routine. I suppose it takes longer as we age. I’m nearing 60 and my “bounce-back” time isn’t what it used to be. However, everything’s back to normal now and things are humming right along at home and at work. It made me think, though. If one week away caused a momentary lapse in my focus upon returning, imagine what others are feeling after 18 months away from work, family, friends and any type of “regular” life? Do you think they’ll readjust quickly? Will they ever see “NORMAL” again? Do they remember what “normal” was like or have we had so many changes and new ordinances imposed upon us that we’ve forgotten our old lives completely? I ask myself these things. Thankfully, I never missed much work during the last year and a half. We here at the newspaper went to half-days for about a month, but millions were out of work completely. Yes, they were given unemployment checks but their lives were totally disrupted. They had to get used to a whole new way of doing things and they had to do it without full social interaction with others. They’ve been told to stay in their homes, don’t mingle with people, don’t go to church or the grocery store without masks, gloves and (if at all possible) a Haz-Mat suit. Now, as we all know, this can’t last forever. You can’t lock up 350 million Americans for 18 months, deny them every liberty previously available to them and then, when things open back up, expect them to just “bounce back” and go back to normal with no problem. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen like that. There will be many significant complications and we’re already seeing them. Thousands have already died and, out of fear, families and dear friends have stayed away from funerals and visitations. Churches have permanently lost members who are now afraid of fellowship and socializing. If you’ve been in a store recently, you’ve seen some shelves empty because deliveries are being delayed. Vaccinated long-distance truck drivers are not nearly as plentiful as expected. At last count, there are between 150 and 400 cargo ships still waiting to be unloaded along the east and west coasts of the United States. Some reports have estimated thousands of them but the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation denies those larger numbers. The price of gas has risen steadily but we don’t really need a national catastrophe for that to happen, do we? And we all know that, as gas prices rise, the cost of EVERYTHING rises as well because everything we buy has to be transported by something that uses gasoline. Yes, prices always go up when fuel costs rise but they don’t go back down after the fuel prices decrease. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? But we are about to experience even more difficulties in the near future. Already, we’re being told this will be the most expensive Thanksgiving in decades. A friend of mine recently priced a turkey near coastal S.C. at over $100. It wasn’t anything special, just an ordinary 20-pound turkey. The media and business owners are advising us to begin ordering our gifts now so they will be delivered in time for Christmas. I know one couple who have waited nearly six months for a refrigerator to arrive. Eighteen months ago, ordering it and having it delivered could have all been done within about 12 hours. We are living in interesting times and they are getting stranger every day. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, approximately 75-80 percent of Americans have suffered extreme frustration, disruption of their normal lives and 65 percent say they still have lingering emotional trauma from the last 18 months of upheaval. However, 35-50 percent say that the isolation has made them depend more on immediate family members and brought the members of their households much closer than ever before. More frustrated but closer — that’s a very interesting combination. Those who were isolated before haven’t fared so well. Over the last year and a half, alcohol sales have increased 55 percent. Curiously, alcohol use has increased more among women (41 percent) than men (17-20 percent). Strangely, suicide rates have actually fallen 5 percent in the last 18 months and murder rates have risen 7 percent. Overall, the crime rate has decreased 11 percent, although it may not seem like it. So there is actually some good in the midst of all this disruption. It has been a long, arduous and agonizing year and a half but it sure has been interesting. I only hope that we can get back to “normal” really soon. Maybe, 10 or 20 years from now, we can look back upon the pandemic without total dissatisfaction. That’s going to be difficult, though. No matter how things turn out, I don’t think we’ll ever forget this period of change and disruption. And we really shouldn’t, should we? Regardless of what anyone says, we are certainly living in “interesting times.” But we’re Americans. We have always survived and prospered in challenging situations. Let’s hope that much hasn’t changed.

Author: Rachel Howell

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