Making peace with the pandemic

Reporting on the worst public health disaster in modern history was not what I had in mind when I applied to intern for The MetroWest Daily News.

Like most Americans around the start of the new year, when I began my first day, COVID-19 was still just a story to me. A terrible story, of course, but one that seemed so far away.

None of us expected to become part of its main characters just a few months later.

Life simply went on as it always did.

My first month and a half on the newspaper went without a trace of the virus, and for the most part what I covered was uplifting.

One inspirational story in particular was about a teenage cancer survivor I spoke to in February.

Her whole life was thrown awry by the disease.

Time that should have been spent with friends withered away in the hospital as she suffered through treatment after treatment in hopes the cancer could be cured.

Her one spark of joy throughout it all was her passion for singing. This too was robbed from her by the chemotherapy that weakened her will for music and even damaged her vocal cords to a point where she could no longer sing at all.

Yet after all it had taken away from her, she did not let the cancer break her.

Constant reminders from friends and family that they were and always would be there for her pulled her through the pain toward a successful recovery.

“If you manifest positivity and love, you will make it,” she said.

Her story ran around the start of March, the month COVID-19 finally began to make a significant mark in America. Society was changing, and so was the tone of my articles.

March 17 saw me out on the Mass Pike interviewing truckers about how the virus was affecting their work. A Dole & Bailey food delivery driver told me, “It’s like a plague out of the Bible.”

He unfolded a list of the four stops he had scheduled for the day – a far cry from the usual 18 to 25 he said he once had before the pandemic. That same day, Gov. Charlie Baker’s order to shut down dine-in gatherings at restaurants went into effect.

I ended the story on a grim note, quoting an Atlas Van Lines moving driver who told me two of the six contracts he had for the week were cancelled.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next week,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

It’s a sentiment we all likely share as the number of confirmed cases of the virus continues to rise across the country and emergency orders put in place to prevent them seem to ever extend.

Some people have told me they’ve lost their jobs as the non-essential businesses they work for remain closed. Others have told me they’ve lost friends to the virus that led them to their deaths.

Everyone’s life has been thrown awry because of COVID-19.

At our own University, the sudden separation from each other came as a shock followed by remorse over our last few weeks on campus being taken away.

Instead of spending time with our friends and enjoying the warm spring weather, time withers away at home as we spend each week hoping for a vaccine to make the virus vanish.

In isolation, our will to continue the passions we once enjoyed may weaken as homebound depression leaves us without motivation. Some of our passions can’t continue at all as the pandemic postpones them perpetually.

An FSU senior told me it’s made her experience the “five stages of grief” for a Gatepost article. She and the rest of the Class of 2020 have lost their last spring on campus.

Yet she, as well as many others I’ve interviewed for the MetroWest Daily News, have also said they’ve come to accept this unfortunate reality. And instead of letting it break them, they’re striving to find ways to make the best of it.

For that senior, she said simply reaching out to close friends and faculty to maintain strong bonds despite being socially distanced helps to keep her spirits up.

Others have deemed it an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve lost during the pandemic so that they’ll come to appreciate them more once it’s over.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen next week, or the week after for that matter. But someday, maybe sooner maybe later, we will recover from COVID-19.

Businesses will re-open and people will return to work. Seniors at Framingham State will walk together for commencement. And everyone trapped at home will be able to reunite with friends they’ve sorely missed.

But in the meantime, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not alone in this struggle.

And while we cannot be at each other’s side to say it in person, just a phone call or text can make all the difference in someone losing everything to having something to live for.

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