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State Street, Lockport IL

A creative means for a restaurant in Lockport, Ill. to remind residents that they are still open for takeaway (March 25, 2020). Photographed by Martin Hawrysko.

Having survived a full calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been reminiscing to those early days when we were yet to fully grasp how the world was about the change.

It wasn’t until the second half of February 2020 that I began to understand the extent of what was happening on the other side of the world. As a regular listener to Wrestling Observer Radio, host Dave Meltzer, as early as February 18th, described how the new coronavirus was disrupting pro wrestling shows in Japan. As the month progressed and things started to get worse there, Dave detailed the cancelling of public events, the wearing of masks while out in public, companies starting to have employees work from home, baseball games to be played with zero spectators, and the growing concern over the Tokyo summer Olympics. With the virus then still initially thought of as a problem hampering only that side of the world, I specifically remember naively thinking “how things like that don’t happen here in the United States.”

By the time the virus had spread to New York City and Washington State, it seemed inevitable that COVID-19 was going to be a real problem on this side of the world and that it would not just go away. That March 11th afternoon as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the concept that sports leagues would soon shut down, that non-essential businesses would be ordered to close, that playgrounds would be roped off, or that holiday family gatherings would not take place still would have seemed unimaginable.

At the time, I was more worried about the impact on the economy than I was over potentially getting sick from the virus. The financial headlines were doom and gloom while 401Ks were nosediving. Further unsettling was not knowing whether my job and what we did at our company would be considered essential or not – and if that could lead to us soon not being allowed to work. I will never forget experiencing the feelings of panic and uncertainly while sitting at my cubicle desk, attempting to calm myself down by listening to the Beach Boys song “Komomo” over and over again on YouTube.

That March 13th afternoon, as news broke that all schools in Illinois were being ordered to shutdown through at least the end of the month, I sat in a parking lot wondering when would we finally reach rock bottom in what had been a 48 hour domino effect of bad news – with each subsequent fallen domino representing yet another seemingly unprecedented moment within my lifetime. Going into that St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the mentality was that if we all hunker down and stay away from each other, things might get better after a few weeks. I was not optimistic.

To make matters worse, at a time when we were in need of competent leadership, we were left with Donald Trump. From downplaying the threat of COVID and endorsing unproven treatments to denying the existence of systemic racism while fanning the false premise of a stolen election, the failed leadership of Trump and the enabling by his supporters cemented that the culture of lying which the right-wing has been perpetuating over the last decade plus was now an entrenched plague of its own of which no vaccine can cure. When science and reason was needed the most, they were blatantly dismissed while attempts to correct lies, misinformation, and dishonorable actions were labeled as fake news, conspiracies, or cancel culture. While 2020 will be most remembered for COVID, I fear that the long-term damage of the Trump presidency is bound to lead to far worst consequences down the line.

With such things out of my control, I found it necessary to more than occasionally turn away from the news and to stay off social media in an effort to maintain some level of positivity. As I wrote in May of last year, I thought it was important to stay mindful of how fortunate I had been and that I had no reason to complain about anything pandemic related. Both my wife and I continued to work, we had our health, and we had everything else we needed to survive and stay comfortable.

All things considered, despite it being a very strange and slow-moving year, 2020 was no where close to being the worst year of my life. I gained a better appreciation for spending time outside, lost a significant amount of weight, enjoyed the abundance of guilt-free reading time, and developed a renewed realization of just how much I enjoy my wife’s company, especially at a time when we were seeing more of each other than ever before as we both adapted to working from home while having no where else to go or anyone else to see that spring.

Today, one year into the pandemic, optimism is on the rise as more people become inoculated over the next several months, which hopefully can allow us to slowly transition to a more familiar sense of normalcy. In the mean time, I am very much looking forward to doing more things outdoors as the weather continues to warm up, whether it be eating outside at a restaurant, meeting with friends for a socially distanced bonfire, or spending the day on the beach in St. Joe’s, Mich.

While the past year may have felt like the longest one in my lifetime, appreciating the many small things has resulted in there being many more good days than bad days. And at the very least, the mask wearing and limiting of actives and socializing has allowed me to go an entire year without getting sick. Just one more thing to be appreciate of.

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