As writers, we’ve taken on the challenge issued by Time magazine and the Indiana Historical Society to write about our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The range of our reflections below capture 10 glimpses into this history-making moment from mid-March to mid-May 2020. We encourage you to capture your own quarantine stories and would love for you to share your reflections with us.
LAURA BUSH: Before the coronavirus, I thought of myself as a clean person, not a “germaphobe.” After all, I grew up in the wild, wild west of Wyoming. A little dirt never hurt anyone! Now I’ve become Howie Mandel, washing my hands for 20 seconds (or more) each time I come back from the grocery store; using disinfectant wipes on every door handle, light switch, and package that comes into my house; and being extra critical of people who don’t wear a mask in public. I keep wondering to myself, “After all this is over, will I ever feel safe shaking anyone’s hand again?”
VIVIAN CANNON: COVID-19 has given rise to my anger and tremendous disappoint in too many Americans. While we treasure many people making true sacrifices dealing with the pandemic, other loud, vocal, and incredibly selfish citizens show we are leaving behind a sense of community. When did we lose collective empathy, care and understanding, tolerance, and the will to fight together against this invisible enemy? The mask is off. We are not who we claim to be. Maybe we never were.
RENEE THORSTAD PARKS: I’ve learned that I am capable of providing healthy food and cooked meals for myself. This is monumental since I haven’t fed myself well through most of my life. I’ve also learned that, in times of stress and feelings of helplessness, I easily fall back into polarizing points of view. But I’ve been strong enough to reach for professional assistance to find solid ground again.
JEAN BRIESE: I am out of toilet paper. (We’re all going to die.) All my events are canceled. (We’re all going to die.) There’s no pasta, water, or soup on the store shelves. (We’re all going to die.) I smile. I show up to encourage others. I talk about pivoting. And still, in the back of my mind is the nagging little chant: We’re all going to die. Week One of Shelter in Place. I’m recording COVID QUICKIES. (it’s so awesome to use my speaking gift to bless others.) I’m hiking every morning. (I never had time to hike.) I’m on a bazillion Zoom calls. (The power of connections magnified.) Our family prays the rosary together to begin each day. (Yay! God and Gratitude.) My roots are showing—in my hair and in my life. Week Eight of Shelter in Place.
MONICA WILLIAMS: COVID-19 has helped me realize that, in many ways, we’ve lacked true connection to our purpose, passion, and other people. We’ve really been disconnected. It took death and a sudden shift to realize that maybe we haven’t been living life to the fullest. Before COVID, breast cancer had already reminded me that life is short—I am not promised tomorrow. Even through what seems like silence, I have gained bold, distinctive, clear internal and external messages about the importance of checking on people, committing to my purpose, and not backing down from the passion that gives my life.
BRETT KEIRSTEAD: I can’t imagine the burden people experience by focusing on the ideas, words, and actions of people that aren’t a central or even proximate part of their life. I can barely process my own thoughts, emotions, and actions to operate in my “normal” life let alone during these times. As a father, husband, coach, manager, friend, child, and community member, I have to be conscious of the close people in my life and how I impact them as they deal with COVID-19. Altogether, those are significant mental tasks! I don’t see how people have the time or energy to react emotionally or carry the mental health burden from everything happening in the public sphere. People seem to get genuinely stressed, angered, worried, and depressed over ideas, words, and actions from barely connected others, such as Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi. They express outrage at fellow citizens that take a different approach to dealing with COVID-19, viewing these approaches as a personal insult, no matter how remote the person. I understand my obligation as a citizen of the world, but the mental responsibilities of my own close sphere feel immense. I can’t imagine accepting the burden from the ideas, words, and actions of others. I feel for people and hope they can find peace.
DEB THORNTON: I experience the inversion of the fluid and the solid. Time is fluid. Without reminders in my phone, I lose track, not heeding specific times because I coordinate schedules with no one. For instance, on a walk one morning, I noticed that trash cans dotted the neighborhood. Why? It’s Tuesday! But, no, I had lost a whole day, and it was, in fact, Wednesday. Once-fluid space has become solid: Keep your distance, please. Dreams featuring people in close proximity create nausea, unease. In my dreamself, I awaken feeling claustrophobic. The inversion clarifies values: people matter. An unreformed introvert, I miss students and concerts, but not traffic and generic crowds; I cherish time alone. I take less for granted, and I embrace Mother Nature, who is taking a break from our ravages.
LAURA SEELEY DAVIS: We cracked jokes, made light of the inconveniences, installed video conferencing software, danced in TikTok videos alongside our children. We put on shiny public faces, assuming the private fear would go away soon. As the days wear into weeks, and the weeks into months, the fear is not gone. The upbeat energy is giving way to emotional fatigue. We are tired of staying home, spending all our time with the same people, trying to be positive. We are tired of hearing about the virus. We are tired of being afraid. An insidious boredom is creeping in beside the fear. It’s self-indulgent, really, but also inevitable. As the novelty wears off, we are left wondering how long we will have to live this way. The next leg of the journey will require vigilance, as familiarity will tempt us to start treating the threat too lightly.
BARBARA LEE MAYS: Yesterday I listened to an interview with Elon Musk. He said that if people want to expose themselves, they have the right to do that and live with whatever consequences they might have. I’m in the middle of a trip delayed due to the virus. I’m currently in Oklahoma where businesses have reopened. Two days ago, I went to Walmart and a couple of other stores. Half the shoppers were wearing masks and gloves. The other half had no masks or gloves on whatsoever. But employees of most businesses were wearing masks and gloves. In my opinion, that’s how it should be. Protect yourself, if that’s your way to cope with this pandemic—or just go on about your business as usual with no protection. Choice. And Consequences. This trip has been an eye-opener and an education.
MICHAEL J. ALLEN: I am grateful for COVID-19 for slowing the world down and putting on the breaks. Looking at myself has been a gift in so many ways. The only thing I control is my body, mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs. What a gift to be able to take a break from a race with continuously changing rules. In ways I could never have imagined, I am now more aware and responsible for my life. Who must I become today in this world?