A Year of Life in the Pandemic: Reflecting on Hope, Nostalgia, and “Normalcy”
by Andrea Traietti ’21
In a way that felt almost a little too poetic, last week I ended my isolation period after testing positive for COVID-19 on the very day that marked a full year of the pandemic.
On March 13, 2020, former President Donald Trump officially declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Two days earlier, on the same day that Providence College announced that it would transition to remote classes, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. Those announcements led to lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates across the country, and as we all know, they would alter our lives drastically—even a year later.
The one-year mark was a milestone that many of us attempted to process last week as we reflected on a year of life in the pandemic, which at times has seemed like a strange time warp.
Personally, my 10 days in the Marriott made me feel a sense of desperation mixed with hopefulness mixed with nostalgia—a sort of cocktail of emotions that I hadn’t felt on such an extreme level since the early days of the pandemic, when everything suddenly became uncertain and scary, but it also seemed, at least initially, like things would make a speedy return to “normal.”
The essayist and novelist Leslie Jamison wrote about this range of emotions in her article “This Year Has Taught Me a Lot About Nostalgia,” which was published by the New York Times last week as part of their series “The Week Our Reality Broke,” a collection of articles reflecting on a year of living in the pandemic.
Jamison made two points in particular that struck me as I read her piece and reflected on my own experiences during the past year: she contextualizes the difference between restorative nostalgia and reflective nostalgia, and she highlights that our longing to return to “normal” can oftentimes blind us to our privilege.
“Restorative nostalgia wants to create an idealized past,” she writes, while “reflective nostalgia interrogates the very image it longs for.” So many of us are longing for life to return to what it was like before the pandemic. We want things to go back to “normal,” and rightfully so.
But Jamison points out that the pandemic itself, which has affected people of color disproportionately, along with the social justice movements that have played out in the midst of the pandemic, should prove to us that we have to think about what “normal” was to us before the pandemic—and what it will be like after.
She asks us not to ignore our feelings of nostalgia for pre-pandemic life, but rather to analyze them, “to reckon with certain abiding American fantasies about our past, our nation and our very different experiences of normalcy.”
So, as we finally begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel with the rollout of the vaccine, we should look at the one-year mark of pandemic life as an opportunity to pause and reflect, and as a reminder to channel our nostalgia and our hope for “normalcy” into sustainable action for the future.