12 Things We Learned in 12 Months of the Pandemic (Part 2)

Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here.

5. Noah Schochet (Prototype Engineer, ThirdEye Gen)

When the pandemic hit, and all the students were sent home, we all found ourselves thrown into a new, uncertain environment that forced us to adapt quickly. No matter who you were, where you lived, or what you did for a living, the lockdown was tough for everyone, albeit sometimes in different ways.

My experience during the year in lockdown was really a mixed bag. I am very extroverted and social, but at the same time a little germaphobic and took every precaution when it came to COVID. This meant I spent a lot of time cooped up indoors, sometimes living with family or a room mate, but still more isolated than ever. 2020 was a rough year—I lost family members, I got my heart broken, there were financial difficulties for almost everyone, and most if not all of my friends were really going through a lot with regards to mental health and there wasn’t much I could do to help.

If I had to pick one thing I learned during this experience it would be how much the little things matter. I have spent most of my life moving at a breakneck pace, always juggling rigorous courses, extracurriculars, chores, social obligations, and jobs. Yet when COVID hit, for a while the juggling act was paused and time seemed to stand still. As I picked up the pieces and put the puzzle of my life back together, I realized how happy the little things made me and my loved ones.

Pre-COVID I would never have time to go on a 3 hour walk with my siblings, I would never even consider waking up early on a weekend to bake fresh bread, or to sit down after dinner and work on a jig saw puzzle, yet during lockdown it was these tiny things that kept me grounded and sane. I also realized little gestures can have a big impact on others. With many of my friends going through their own turbulent times, I found that something as simple as sending a quick text to check in on them could make a huge difference; especially if they weren’t doing so well and needed someone to talk to.

As I am about to graduate the fast-paced, high-pressure environment of college and enter the real world as an adult, I have a chance to build my life and lifestyle more or less from scratch. I will make a concerted effort to dedicate time and energy to the small things in whatever form they take, and I recommend everyone considers doing the same.

6. Gitty Webb (Co-director, Princeton University Chabad House)

Written in the memory of her two uncles who passed away this year, Chaim Yeshaya ben Moshe and Shlomo Yaakov ben Yitzchok:

There’s a chassidic concept of “moach shalit al ha’lev.” The mind should have control over the heart.

This past year had the ability to crush me. It was long, hard, and many times debilitating. It played with my emotions—at times it made me lose belief in my potential and ability. But when I really meditate on that line, constantly, it gives me the strength to overpower that which holds me back from within and move forward.

7. Lena Haime (Political Organizer)

In these 12 months of quarantine, I’ve learned, felt, and celebrated the power of collective action.

Distortions of freedom have convinced us that wearing a mask or staying indoors are egregious infringements on our fundamental rights as Americans. Tragically, this “individualist” mindset is not only destructive to oneself, but to those around them. And yet, we’ve had so many instances of collective action that have pushed so many of us to be better to ourselves and to others.

Without a shared commitment to truths about racial justice, science, and democracy, we will not be able to recover from the virus, in a way that is equitable to the people it has impacted the most.

8. Daniel Ross-Rieder (MBA student, Kellogg School of Management)

In 2020, a pandemic raged across the world. Many of us heeded the warnings from Italians, Spanish the British, while reasonably concluding what also likely transpired in China and Iran. Our sacrifice was far less formidable than London residents made during the Nazi bombing runs, or that which our American forbearers made in the great wars, but nevertheless it was a big sacrifice. As social animals, we signed up for isolation, face masks and new-routines, while remaining grateful for sacrifices more notable than our own, as medical staff, delivery workers, grocery workers and others deemed “essential” showed up to the front and kept the gears of society from breaking down.

3 takeaways from the dark times:

1) Trump or no Trump, the pandemic was unavoidable. While Trump was an exceptionally bad president, it’s worth acknowledging the pandemic was unavoidable, and relative to the many extreme, wrong-headed, acts of national self-destruction pursued by #44, the pandemic was unavoidable, and the US, while mediocre, did not handle it far worse than other countries.

But experiencing a pandemic under an ethnic-nationalist, confederate-nostalgic, leadership that pursued a Leninist politics of destruction, was probably not the best combination. Yes, other governments got the data wrong, or lied to their people, and they got their people killed too. But America’s abandonment of a sense of national purpose was remarkable. Treating life-saving instruments as a sign of unmanliness, worthy of mockery is was a type of lowest-low that should live in infamy. This toxic divisiveness reached its moment of apotheosis when American congress members refused to cover their mouths during an armed assault on our nation by bloodthirsty fascists, led by white supremacists, Nazis, nooses and all. September 11 taught us to see past our petty bullshit at least for a moment. 2 decades later, American members of Congress exposed their representatives of America to the threat of death or severe injury through a biologic agent, because “does anything matter if we have not trolled the libs.”

2) Either the internet is rotten, or it provides a broad window into diverse public sentiment and discourse. Unfortunately, I think the answer is probably more of the latter than the former.

I spent more civic engagement in online spaces, both public (Facebook, local government email-lists) and private (Reddit, Twitter).

The internet as a window into the public discourse is not healthy to look at in large doses.

As a Jew who has spent a lot of time in academic institutions, brand-name companies, etc., my god there is a lot of anti-Semitism out there. On the left, on the right, among the educated and uneducated, among the ostensibly woke and obviously unwoke.

I learned not to acknowledge my Jewish background in public forms using a my public identity lest I receive threats, Holocaust denial and other forms of harassment.

While I have tried not to overdraw conclusions from a set of potentially unrepresentative data points, the internet during the time of coronavirus left me feeling more alien, unwelcome and less American than being violently attacked for being Jewish. I do not say that lightly.

3) People are kind, generous and resilient. For all the complaining about Zoom, enough people from phases of my life embraced it. I reconnected with old friends and groups of friends. Those groups supported one another, provided virtual community and checked in. Ironically, I experienced more community during the pandemic than any other period of my life. A weekly semi-work call with my best friend from high school in which we studied startups and stocks was a great way to reconnect. A weekly video chat with college friends. Through Zoom I experienced people’s ups (babies, first homes) and their downs (funerals, the Lebanon bombing, the stresses of George Floyd). I learned about people’s lives through online war games, competed in HouseParty quiz bowl across 8 time zones, and jammed on my horn with New York locals at 7 pm out of the window of our NYC apartment to thank the hospital workers arriving home from their shifts.

Humans. We are messy, we’re imperfect, and we have a lot of work to do. That said, as primates, we’ve done a better job than arguably any other, and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We have a lot of care, creativity and we are pretty resilient.

Let’s be good to one another, maintain proper defenses and figure out how to keep persevering.

4) In conclusion, I offer this one cool trick that will SHOCK you: fostering and adopting a cat solves 99% of first world problems.

Source: Personal Experience, CNN

Part 2 of 3.

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