This past week, I walked into FML, sat down and took off my mask. As minor as that may seem, there was a point in time when I wasn’t sure if I would ever be in a Lehigh building without a mask again.
It has been two years since the beginning of the pandemic. I was sent home from Lehigh as a second semester sophomore and I am now getting ready to graduate this May. In my old undergraduate age, I found I learned lessons from the pandemic that I did not originally anticipate.
In elementary school, we were told that small acts of kindness go a long way. Seeing this come to fruition during the pandemic has been rewarding beyond words.
This kindness has been felt all over the world: neighbors came together to sing and cheer on their balconies to salute healthcare workers, birthday parades became a common pick-me-up and our first responders worked in overdrive.
So much has happened during the past two years that we were not able to control: variants, available testing and vaccine production, to name a few. However, we can always control the kindness and support we show others.
Growing up, my mom worked in public health at a renowned hospital, so I was taught that scientists always had our best interests in mind. I was admittedly blind to the fact that politics can (and will) get in the way of public health initiatives.
I honestly didn’t anticipate the chaos our polarized political system would have on the pandemic response. I naively thought that we would all have similar goals in mind: limit the spread of COVID-19, avoid overloading our hospitals and work back to some sense of normalcy.
I now realize that for some, the beliefs and statements of politicians they follow may hold more weight than the statements made by scientists and field professionals. Not everyone has the same trust in scientists and public health officials that I do because of my upbringing. I am still learning how to properly react to this.
I remember when the initial shutdown happened, questions like “Do I feel short of breath?” and “Could I taste my coffee this morning?” repeatedly flooded my mind. Constantly worrying about my physical health made me forget that mental health matters, too.
There were days when I was tempted to skip my online classes and days that I did not want to leave my childhood bedroom. Dealing with the shock of going into lockdown, combined with the feelings of fear and isolation, is a lot to handle simultaneously. It was (and still is) natural to need a mental health day.
The fact that everyone has lost something to the pandemic should hit close to home for many people. I can’t help but think that I and most other students who have had much of their college education altered by the pandemic, have lost the “normal” college experience.
In the grand scheme of things, though, many have lost much worse. Some have lost jobs and financial stability. Some have postponed weddings or canceled study abroad trips. Some have lost loved ones without getting to say goodbye. As heartbreaking as it is, experiencing some kind of loss throughout the course of the pandemic is universal.
If anything, I hope that we can empathize with one another a little bit more than we could before.
I am not above feeling sorry for myself and others when I think about what could have or should have happened during the past two years instead of the pandemic. I think that this is a normal thought process to have in response to a loss.
Living through a global pandemic is something that everyone has gone through and can relate to in some way. Universal experiences are hard to come by these days.
When I look back, I like to think that maybe our suffering was coupled with learning.
Maybe there actually were implicit lessons from living through a pandemic that will change us all for the better. Maybe we all have more in common than we think, after all.
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