The Longest Year

This day last year, March 3, 2020, marked the first reported cases of covid here in North Carolina. It was also the day of our presidential primary. As of today, we’ve logged over 11,000 covid-related deaths in our state, over half a million in our country. We have a different President, after an election process fraught with tension and followed by an insurrection. It seems like a very long year. 

As the pandemic began to impact us, we were told at first not to wear face masks. Hospitals and health workers were short of personal protective gear, so any available supplies were needed for them. Starting March 10, 2020, North Carolina’s governor began issuing a whole string of executive orders aimed at containing or mitigating the spread of the virus. A “stay at home” phase began March 30. Executive Order 121 enjoined residents “to stay at home except to visit essential businesses, to exercise outdoors or to help a family member. Specifically, the order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to physically stay at least 6 feet apart from others.” Schools had closed. Parents and teachers scrambled to come up with alternative child care arrangements and virtual learning plans. Stores sold out of paper goods. Small businesses and communities of color were among the worst impacted. 

Nationally, our then-President predicted that the virus would disappear on its own. Locally, most social, religious and philanthropic groups canceled in-person meetings and began congregating in virtual spaces. Public service announcements advised us to “flatten the curve,” so that caseload spikes did not overwhelm the health care system. As spring limped toward summer, cases seemed to dip, then surge, then dip, then surge again in mind-numbing seesaws. Our regional newspaper printed the statistics of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths along the edge of its front page, a sort of grisly “box score.” Whether or not to hold in-person political rallies became a political issue of its own.  

If it was an uneasy summer for all, it was especially trying for those impacted by extra-judicial police killings captured on mobile phone video. Protests erupted across the nation and around the world. Through it all, even mask wearing got politicized. 

Fall brought additional complications, as jurisdictions tried to come up with safe yet inclusive ways to hold an election during a pandemic. Non-partisan election workers needed to be hired, trained, retrained, and/or retained as procedures changed, election boards jockeyed for adequate protective equipment and supplies, and the elder-skewed workforce from prior elections debated whether to risk possible infection by working in 2020. By election day, voter participation rates had surpassed records going back over a century. In our county, the proportion of absentee ballots quadrupled. 

It took what seemed like forever to ascertain a winner of the presidential race, amid delayed counts, recounts, and multitudes of court cases. The loser refused to concede, opting instead to allege massive voter fraud, unsubstantiated by anything other than his massively distorted ego. Thousands of his most avid supporters came to Washington D.C. on January 6. After he addressed a rally near the White House, some of them went to the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of electoral college results. A few nearly succeeded. Their actions continue to roil our politics, just as the pandemic is starting to be dented by more widespread vaccinations and better compliance with public health measures, just as financial relief for the neediest works its way through Congress. 

It’s my fervent prayer that the next twelve months will seem less endless than the preceding twelve, that some of the underlying societal ills laid bare by the pandemic will be tackled with more than lip service, and that our understanding of our dependence on the natural world will deepen. A small answer and blessing blooms in a tree well near our townhouse—this year’s first daffodils. 

First daffodils, spring 2021

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