On Harbingers

Red sky at night sailors delight; red sky in the morning sailors take warning.

The past few weeks, my Facebook memories have shown hints of what a year later has become a global crisis. A paper from my colleague, the infectious disease expert, sent as a “isn’t this interesting” and “it could be a huge problem if we aren’t careful” was one of my first heads up, and it told a chilling story of a novel infectious virus. A few emails asking my opinion about the new coronavirus trickled in over the next few days. With a sense of foreboding, I spent one Saturday afternoon last January at a local beach bar, sitting on a stool drinking beer, reading paper after paper and headline after headline about the novel coronavirus, what was known, what was unknown. At that time, the world I was living in, Florida, had little inkling of what was to come (to some, it’s debatable whether or not the state does now after almost a year of living in a pandemic…). I spoke to a couple of friends who knew enough to be concerned. I did not know then that the words SARS-Cov-2 and COVID-19 would become household terms, along with PCR testing, antigen testing, contact tracing, and vaccines. I did not know the controversies to come concerning public health and guidelines. The lockdowns. The massive toll on mental, physical, and spiritual health. The daily counts—total infections, number recovered, deaths. All I knew at that moment was that things could change, dramatically, and it was time to prepare.

Those first few weeks in March and April were a blur, marked with moments of crystal clarity. Sending a heads up to loved ones, considering worst case scenarios, brainstorming solutions, stocking up on essentials, coordinating support for friends and family, gearing up for possible disrupted services, getting authorization as an essential worker to travel, and so on. I felt like I was rushing to get everyone safe behind the gates in the face of a tsunami, and tucking them in for the long winter to come. Today, I look back and think of the roads with little to no traffic, because only essential workers were out (including me), restaurants and stores closed, people sheltering in place as the exact magnitude of the threat was still unknown. Masked colleagues, staggered work schedules to minimize cross exposure, and so on as normal disappeared. It was a time of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, fear, one marked with gestures of kindness, extraordinary heroism, and altruism among the chaos.

To say we have come a long way since those days is an understatement. Today, things seem brighter; even though there is still a long road ahead, there is hope. My old friend posted the following quote on her timeline recently, and it seemed especially poignant as I gaze back a year ago-2020 was a year that broke.

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