One year ago this week, I was living a normal life, and you probably were too.

There were no masks, no social distancing, and no fear.

We dined inside at restaurants, we shopped, and we attended ball games, movies, live concerts, and church.

We heard on the news about an odd-sounding virus on a cruise ship somewhere. I was one those news anchors who shared that information, but I wasn’t concerned. 

My wife, who is, how do I say this….much smarter than me, had purchased several rolls of toilet paper for some reason. I made fun of her for doing that, at least once. Spoiler alert: it came in handy.

Then came March 12, 2020. The school district in my area announced it would be shutting down for two weeks, because the county had reported its first case of COVID-19. Wow, I thought. Two weeks is a long time. I thought, I’m glad this is happening now. Imagine if things were shut down during football season. Like most of us, I had no idea.

Back then, if someone was putting on a mask before they entered a retail store or a bank, the police were alerted. Now, if someone enters without a mask, it is a rare sight indeed.

Recently, I posed two questions to my readers: What have you learned since the beginning of the pandemic? And, how will your life change when things are back to normal? This week, I’ll focus on the first question.

By far, the most common response was “I will never again take anything for granted.” Many readers talked about “hugging my grandparents (or grandchildren) tighter, and visiting with them longer and more frequently. We always assume we’ll have a next visit, another hug or kiss, but tomorrow isn’t promised.”

Understandably, hugs of all sorts are missed. “We didn’t have a family reunion for the first time in my life,” one friend wrote. “And what’s a reunion without hugs?” Another added, “Even an introvert like me needs social interaction. I miss the handshakes and hugs more than I ever thought I would.”

Although children have gradually returned to their classrooms, many lamented the long breaks without in-school learning. One teacher wrote, “I missed seeing the smiles on their faces and feeling the joy from within their hearts. Their education has been challenged like never before. I rejoice knowing the hallways are now filled with happy faces, and knowing they are learning and socializing again.”

The inability to be with ailing relatives, some of whom passed away, will always be a part of our pandemic remembrances. As one woman wrote, “I’m ready for the day for hospitals to open up to visitors again. Losing my dad the way we did...I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.”

Others have missed the joys of travel and restaurant dining, although one friend cheerfully recalled “a recent increase in good conversation, a more economical way of eating, and even a few pounds lost.” 

One mother found an unexpected silver lining during the pandemic. She said, “As difficult as it has been, I have absolutely loved spending time with my 15-year-old daughter! We really enjoy each other's company, and she's got a terrific sense of humor. For me, that's been the best thing to come out of quarantine. We are both looking forward to life getting back to normal, but the time we've spent together has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift.”

Another woman summed it up this way. “I've learned to appreciate life more. Sure we've had other deadly viruses, but this one changed everything. We may never have our old normal, but I now know I can live with the new normal,” she said.

Many readers pointed out how the virus became a political tool, rather than a scientific reality. One man wrote, “I’ve learned there are people who would take a chance on infecting themselves, their loved ones or complete strangers just to prove a political point. That makes me sad.”

Perhaps the most surprising lesson has been coming to grips with our fears, our vulnerabilities, and our weaknesses. In America, we had become comfortable with the false reality that nothing could stop our way of life. Sure, there was a pandemic before, but that was more than a hundred years ago. Science, medicine, and technology had advanced to the point that we could fend off anything, or so we believed. 

As one reader said, “Just because you could never imagine it happening, and even though the politicians said it could never happen, it most certainly can happen. “

Next week, we’ll spotlight responses from readers on how the after-effects of the pandemic will change the way they live their lives in the future. You are welcome to chime in. My email address is radiotv2020@yahoo.com.

(David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor and radio host, is on ChattanoogaRadioTV.com.  You may contact him at radiotv2020@yahoo.com)

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