I’ll never forget where I was the night that everything changed.
Like absolute naïve fools, my housemates and I were travelling all around Kingston gathering the necessities to produce yet another unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day at Queen’s, rounding out the trip with an essential pit stop at our local McDonald’s.
Stirring my mayo and ketchup together to make the most sophisticated of dipping sauces, I couldn’t shake the feeling of a growing pit in my stomach. As I gazed around, I was warmed by the regularity of the scene: faces of old friends gathering over cups of coffee, pre-teens scarfing down ice cream cones while stressing about their homework due the next day, and workers functioning at hyper-speed to keep up with the desperate demand of nuggets.
Something was off. I can’t really explain it, but I knew, I just knew, that this would be the last sense of normalcy I would experience for a long time.
It wouldn’t be but an hour later when the NBA game between the Utah Jazz and the OKC Thunder was dramatically halted and cancelled with no explanation. I don’t think anyone had to wait for the confirmation to know what was true; COVID-19 was here, and everyone, no matter wealth or status, can be affected.
As a happy and healthy 21-year-old resident of Canada with no known underlying medical conditions, I will be the first to acknowledge that I am amongst the most privileged group of people facing this pandemic. I will never not praise the ground I walk on for this privilege. However, this also made me quick to dismiss how greatly this pandemic would affect me.
Perhaps it was denial, or even optimism, but I genuinely believed Queen’s would only close if there was a reported case on campus. After that, I believed Queen’s would only close if there was a case in Kingston. Then gradually, Queen’s closed.
As a 2020 graduate, the ending of the year was always going to hurt, but not like this.
The whirlwind of chaos that erupted in the days following was nothing short of unimaginable.
Students frantically moving home and packing up years of memories overnight. Friends not being able to say goodbye. Jobs closed, events cancelled, and classes postponed. Most of all, an unspeakable feeling of stale hopelessness that lingered throughout every street.
The campus felt as empty as Aberdeen on the afternoon of March 14th. Up until about a week before, the street was projected to be flooded with students whose biggest worries were figuring out whether to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday or Tuesday (the answer was both).
My routine for the following week was simple. Wake up, feel thankful for my health. Sit on the couch, feel thankful I’m safe at home. Watch Netflix, feel thankful for frontline workers. Call my grandparents, pray they’re safe. Call my dad and brothers, pray they won’t get sick. Go to bed, fail to sleep, fear the future, and feel sick. Turn on the lights, and eventually fall asleep around 5am to the haze of Netflix. Repeat.
The days were manageable, the nights were impossible.
As the days of paranoid hand-washing and movie marathons continued, my overwhelming gratitude and inherent tendency to over-empathize was becoming self-destructive.
It feels egocentric to be angry over the loss of the end of an undergraduate degree while people are on the frontlines every day. It feels selfish to be angry that my friends can’t be together while people are fighting for their lives. It feels disgraceful to long for the chance to sit in a coffee shop all day sipping on a $7 coffee and feasting on an $11 bagel that I could’ve made at home. The more I allowed my shame to bury my emotions, the stronger the pain fought back.
I completed the hardest four years of my life, alone in my apartment, and my only reward was a simple, but passionate, self- high-five. It was the first time I felt incredibly sorry for myself. Even more so, I was angry. Almost simultaneously with the click of the “submit” button, I burst into tears, the memories of the best years of my life flooding my living room.
Relief—I could breathe.
There’s always the underlying fear of labelling something as traumatic in a generalized way, resulting in the devaluing of the word. Yet, there is also the danger of not acknowledging something as traumatic, and in result, allowing the trauma to foment into unmanageable grief.
So, let me be clear. Living through a global pandemic is traumatic. It’s not something you realize immediately because, for those of us who have experienced severe trauma, it doesn’t necessarily resemble it right away.
Acknowledging only the bright sides of a global pandemic is like having to answer a question on an exam that was never covered in the course material: just plain wrong.
It’s easy to get lost in the constant promotion of unrealistic positivity and the ever so toxic “hustle culture” of social media that forces you to believe you aren’t living up to the standards of quarantine if what you’re feeling isn’t pure motivation, but anxiety. It is easy to feel shame if what you’re doing isn’t transforming your body or building your resume, but lying on the couch watching The Office hoping that you’ll wake up tomorrow and it will all have been a dream.
It’s easy to deny this is happening, it’s hard to acknowledge and mourn what was lost.
So, let’s face it together. This sucks.
Say it aloud if you need to. Let yourself know it’s okay to acknowledge that living through a global pandemic can be undeniably bleak at times.
While we must continue to hold a strong sense of empathy, we must also diminish the belief that allowing yourself to grieve personal loss is self-centered and immoral. No matter how you look at it, everyone has had to, and will continue to, face some sort of loss.
What we have gained, however, is time. More of which we need to give to ourselves and all of which we are in control of. Slow down, breathe, cry, laugh, confront the grief and trauma, mourn what was lost amid this pandemic—no matter how trivial.
I miss telling my friends “I’m only having a casual because I work tomorrow” and then staying out until closing time. I miss the atmosphere of the ARC on game days. I miss hearing “you are sooooooo beautiful” from a stranger in the women’s bathroom at Stage Rage. I miss staring at the Professor while everyone else is packing up five minutes early in ~slow motion~ to show them that I’m the good and respectful student. I miss walking home from Stauffer at 2am, absolutely exhausted. I miss the feeling of absolute relief after handing in a major essay or presenting an assignment.
I miss hugging my grandparents. I miss the people I never got to say goodbye to. I miss the excitement of life on campus.
I don’t miss how much I used to take it all for granted.
We have plenty of time. Time to feel sad, grateful, stressed, inspired, or to just simply feel. We can grow as couples, independents, families, and friends. Most importantly, we can learn to let go, reconnect, apologize, forgive, or even further be thankful you never did.
Success in a pandemic is not measured by how fit you’ve become or how many skills you’ve mastered, but rather, it’s measured by the resilience of your mindset and the growth of your perspective on what you value most in life.