The Pandemic is Over

Last night I attended a musical event hosted in Alexandria, VA by Common Sense Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the civilizational virtues of liberty, prosperity and beauty. Celtic music, love songs from times of war and hardship on the old continent. Good simple company, refreshments, a glass of juice.

At the end, a word of concern about Ukraine and a recognition that the type of brutality that returned to Europe over this winter is not unusual – it is in fact part of the old story of Europe, and needs to be fought against with charity and compassion as well as in the preservation of our civilizational ties that bind. Like Celtic music. If we don’t glory in beautiful things that give our lives peace and meaning, why fight the Russians in the first place?

All this, and not a mask in sight.

It has been a long pandemic. I remember the “boom boom boom” of approaching pandemic. I was in Armenia, at work, as one-by-one the borders started to close and the airlines stopped flying. “Last Air France flight is tomorrow!” and “British Airlines has announced one last flight.” I was sitting at the conference table when President Trump announced the borders of US were closing; it was a Friday I think and I had just sent some visitors rushing home to not be caught out. That Monday I had a meeting with my staff, and I cancelled it “Probably just this week” I think I said “We’ll pick up in two weeks.”

We never had an in-person program meeting again. What followed was two of the most bizarre years of my life. Yours too I’m sure. State Department sent charter planes embassy to embassy, picking up diplomats wanting to run away. We stayed, because we always stay – my job has never ended because things get hard – in fact that’s always when my job gets interesting, and important. Half of the embassy left – I bought a huge ham, putting it in deep freeze in case there was a meat problem. Pallets of water. Filled up the gas tank. We wondered and worried, the stories were of military vehicles in northern Italy carting away dead – of whole villages wiped out. It’s impossible to underestimate the bizarre uncertainty as we cowered. And we, on our island mountaintop in the South Caucasus

Lockdown, that weird two month period when nobody in the world went outside. Did it matter? Should we have done that? Medical historians I’m sure will debate that for years. Food deliveries. I played with my son mostly, Legos and chess and soccer in our back yard. Frigid Frisbee and badminton and catch as P.E. between working-from-home zoom meetings and online school. It extended, spring melted the snows and we stumbled out into the warmth like Gollum emerging from his cave. Cowering from each other. I visited the supermarket every week to keep my finger on the pulse of supply chains in Moscow-linked-Yerevan.

It warmed up, and we ventured abroad. We were lucky – we were in Armenia, and my life was being saved amidst the wave of pandemic death, a paradox I’ll never understand. We hiked the ancient monasteries; swam the timeless alpine lakes; climbed the mountains where Prometheus was one-time chained. Just us, just me and my little family. Spring turned to summer turned to fall, we prepared for home-school again. We raked leaves and played jump-in-leaf-pile games. We had a solitary Halloween, making a bat-cave and watching scary movies. We had cookie-and-movie Christmas. We worked out at home, running around the house, listening to music. We learned to ski. I wrote about it all for you who accompanied me – and I put the pictures on Facebook for those who were not as privileged as I was to be locked down in a beautiful place.

The war came – Azerbaijan taking advantage of the malaise to start a war. 10,000 young men killed in the trenches of Nagorno Karabakh; a precursor to the Ukraine war we are seeing now. Armenia returned to be the ‘Weeping Nation’. “To be Armenian is an impossibility” as Franz Werfel wrote. My little boy did zoom-math and zoom-English. I did zoom-work.

We became comfortable with the virus, though it was always there in our rushed supermaket trips, in our insistence of outside dining in the rare moment we went to eat. In our eschewing of enclosed spaces. The next year of the virus came on. A vaccine. More waves. More mayhem. We returned to USA; pandemic moving. New jobs. New schools. Three years, 2nd-3rd-4th grade my little boy has heard about a virus every day. We finally caught COVID, on Christmas Day – my son and I did. At grandma and grandpa’s. Driving nine hours across the United States, my boy with a fever and me with pineapple nose. In the great Omicron explosion that ended the pandemic like a triumphant 4th of July finale.

And now its over. Oh sure, we’ll be dealing with the fallout for years. 20 trillion dollars, 6 million dead – probably closer to 20 million. Each loss a profound suffering for a family. Social stress as chronic worry turns angry. The pandemic seemed to end for our society in our maskless Superbowl – a good game, halftime show targetted at my age group and mostly without the political nonsense of the previous years. People just happy to watch a game. It ended for our politicians at the maskless State of the Union address, when the President declared a return to in-person work.

It ended for me last night, at the first ‘normal’ event I’ve attended in years, where we talked about the importance of beauty and the worries of what the Russians were doing in Ukraine. Despite the mayhem the pandemic has left us with, I have a sense of relief along with a tremendous sense of accomplishment of having survived the COVID-19 era; not only survived, but frankly and humbly, thrived. And for that I am so eternally grateful.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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