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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 02/19/21 - Pandemic Reflections

Thinking back to mid-January of 2020, it seems like a lifetime ago. I was in in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The end of my visit coincided with the San Sebastián Street Festival. Thousands of people arrived in the city to celebrate. I took this photo one night as cruise ships lined up in the harbor. At the time, Puerto Rico was experiencing earthquakes, and to most people this probably seemed like a huge threat, even as larger threats loomed, unseen on our collective horizon.

I wandered through those streets of Old San Juan on that trip, wondering if COVID-19 had already

begun spreading here in the west. The spectacle of multiple cruise ships and huge festivals common in that now past era may take a while to return. On this same trip, I had the opportunity to meet a new friend, professional birdwatcher and photographer Victor Feliciano who runs Anativa Tours. We climbed to the top of the rain forest and experienced a tempest of a storm in a stone observation tower as the rain blew up the side of the mountain we were perched on the edge of. I am so grateful for these pre-pandemic experiences; the memories have helped sustain me over these last months.

I first became aware of the pandemic at Christmas 2019, when I began to follow the developing story coming out of China. Long a reader on pandemics and related matters, I did suspect we would experience a full pandemic. This was also my last visit to Julie’s parents’ home in Bedford Pa, the gathering space for the family over the last two decades. Another end chapter I was not entirely aware of at the time. That home was sold by mid summer.

I have been reflective of what has transpired this year and the long-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on our society. As a student of history, I know that plagues of this magnitude reorder societies. A good example is the relationship between the bubonic plague in the 14th century and the Italian Renaissance. Historians also identify that disparities developed between Northern and Southern Italy that persist into our current era. The Plague ended up making the rich richer. History also tells us that during the Plague, there was also an increase in fanaticism. One notable group that became prominent during the black death was Flagellantism. Adherents used to walk through the center of towns whipping themselves as a form of penance, believing that the plague was a result of the sins of the people.

Looking at all the conspiracy theories and rejection of science we see now and wondering if we have come very far at all. 600 years later, and perhaps are societal dynamics are not that different. There will be no return to that pre-COVID-19 world in our rearview mirror. New world, new challenges, but such hardships also foster resiliency, new opportunities and greater appreciation for what we do have, right here and right now.

Despite everything, I remain hopeful for our nation, if only we can get out of our own way and the squabbles of division we are mired down in. The truth of the matter is that there is no place on earth that is better suited to innovating a pathway forward in this changed world than we are here in America. That is if we collectively decide to take on these challenges. It is a big “if.” Count me as among those willing to try to rise to remake a better world despite itself.

Grateful for recovery that allows me to experience life in all its complexities without numbing it out. Grateful to have an awareness of history and the context that that history provides us for what we are experiencing right now. Maybe we come out of the other side of this appreciating the small things, realizing that the small things in life are not small at all. Recovery continues to teach me how small things matter, although sometimes it resonates more than other times.

I think it is fair to say I will not ever experience a large festival like the one last January in the same way ever again. It is also true that there are many things that I will never in my life take for granted again. Coffee with a friend at a coffee shop. Old friends over for dinner. A concert. Making new friends Exploring a new place, and yes, large festivals.

Grateful for my recovery which makes experiencing these challenges and opportunities with open eyes and an open heart.

What are you grateful for today?

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