Judith Stolnitz | COVID-19 Becoming Collective Memory

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Our society has collective memories — the shooting of JFK, the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Space Shuttle disasters, 9/11… to say nothing of the wars and elections. Our individual memories may be offshoots of the bigger events, like where we were when we heard the news about Richard Nixon resigning or, as simple as, with whom we shared the last holiday meal and did we get along.

COVID-19 will become a shared memory. Our grandchildren will ask how we shopped, how we ate out and how we went to school. 

They might ask, “Wait, there was NO BASEBALL???” 

Residents of assisted living facilities fighting over the dining room will remember a time when we all were a little kinder. These same retirees will forget the risks the aides, nurses and doctors took to keep them safe. Society will remember the benefits of delivered groceries, but not the people who delivered them. We were all in the same storm, though not the same boat.

Memories morph into reflections and lessons we can learn from our shared quarantine. We need to acknowledge what we can live without, what is really worth our time, and who is worth the risk of germs. If we can actually act within the honesty of these reflections, all of us have the opportunity to repair the broken parts of our country.

Spending so much time in the same four walls may teach us that where we are isn’t as important as the people who are quarantined behind other windows. Society can learn all about our housing crisis here in the U.S. Too many people have nowhere to isolate safely. There are too many homeless and too many always on the verge of homelessness.

Personally, we may learn that we can do without a late-night visit to the ER or urgent care and just drink lots of fluids and get rest. The darker side of this lesson is that there are people who must put themselves in COVID’s way without basic safety equipment and social distancing. Many hospitals are substandard. Broadly we need to remember the lesson that universal health care is a right, not a privilege. Our health-care system needs to be overhauled to bring equality of care to all sectors of our society.

We are appreciating our teachers and the opportunities our children receive in public schools while we distance learn. Parents who are frustrated with the speed of new technologies need to acknowledge that many children don’t have the easy availability of WiFi or the hardware to use it. There are wage earners who must work outside the home during this pandemic, adding a level of challenge to the temporary home schooling. Their children are being taken into potentially contagious workplaces because there is no day care. Income inequality and differences in workers’ rights must become lessons learned and repaired.

People will publish cookbooks, “COVID-19 — How I learned to make a meal out of flour, peanut butter and that little packet of pretzels I took from the cruise,” as we make do with what is available in our grocery stores and complain about the “COVID 15.” 

Again, we have the opportunity to learn about income inequality and the harm people put themselves in to simply earn enough to eat a meal or bring us ours. Nationally the lesson in food deserts, distribution challenges and nutrition inequality will hopefully last long enough for us to do something about our very American relationship with food.

As a society we have the opportunity to learn some hard lessons about our country and even the world as a whole. If we benefit from the lessons and use our power at the polls, maybe the next national crisis won’t need to highlight the mighty differences between the haves and have nots, whites and people of color, citizens and recent immigrants, those with yachts and those with leaky rowboats. 

Maybe all we will have to learn is the proper etiquette for a Zoom meeting.

Judith Stolnitz


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