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Story and Photo By Josie Cox-Saleh
By sheer coincidence, the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 coincides almost exactly with my move to the United States.
In mid-March 2020, I landed at JFK International Airport exhausted and anxious following a six-hour flight from London. After a decade living across the pond, I was moving to New York even though I’d hardly spent any time in America before.
While in line for immigration, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the increasingly dystopian news on my phone. In the time I’d spent flying across the Atlantic, the world seemed to have shifted on its axis. I’d stepped onto a plane in a reasonably unperturbed U.K., only to disembark in a country gripped by fear. That dread was threatening to escalate into full-blown panic, and as we all know, later would evolve into a health crisis unlike any we have seen in the past century.
The last 12 months have been some of the most heartbreaking and frustrating, not only for myself, but for our globalized society. Personally, I haven’t been able to see my family or closest friends; I’ve missed births; and I wasn’t there to mourn the passing of a loved one. I know that others have suffered much more, and I am grateful for my health, but in the current situation, everyone’s emotions are real, and everyone’s feelings are legitimate.
Through all the sorrow and isolation, the last year has also marked a period of intense learning and radical experimentation that has helped us grow in ways that might have seemed impossible pre-pandemic. From the mundane (me administering my first haircut) to the unfathomable (pharmaceutical companies distributing vaccines in mere months), we’ve all grasped what we’re capable of under extreme circumstances.
And we’ve learned other lessons too.
When forced to substitute conference rooms and open-plan office spaces for home-based Zoom calls, we learned that community exists in unexpected places: the subway, the grocery store, and the pharmacy. We became conscious of how much we missed serendipitous conversations with strangers and the seemingly immaterial interactions with colleagues. These are the spices that add flavor to our lives, that give them verve, and make them 3D.
If we’re lucky we won’t be foolish enough to take them for granted in a post-vaccine world.
Next—and ironically, perhaps—a year of quarantine and seclusion has taught us more about social responsibility than ever before. As we’ve gone about our lives, six feet apart, we’ve become acutely aware of the fact that we are each other's guardians of health. Of course, we wear masks for our own protection, but we also do so to protect each other. We rely on each other and depend on each other. “We’re in this together,” was practically 2020’s headline. But it’s true—we’re only as strong as our weakest link.
The last year has also been the ultimate litmus test for leaders. Before any of us had heard of Covid-19, droves of managers and CEOs prided themselves on being purpose-driven and ethical. The virus allowed us to easily differentiate between the genuine and the insincere. As coronavirus ricocheted from country to country, bad leaders thought first and foremost of themselves and their profits. Good leaders, on the other hand, showed compassion, empathy, and heart when lives and livelihoods came under sudden and severe threat. They prioritized the wellbeing of their employees and other stakeholders over revenue and short-term gains. It’s the latter who will be remembered for demonstrating care, responsibility, and long-term thinking.
It’s easy to dwell on the pain and suffering of the last year. The temptation to write 2020 off as a waste of time is hard to suppress, but crises also breed opportunity. When the pandemic subsidies, we will again have the privilege of appreciating our freedoms and choices. We will cherish the value of simple activities and human interaction-- eating out with friends, going to the theatre, attending a baseball game, sitting at a bar, and taking a vacation. And personally, I look forward to arriving in the real New York. After a year of living in bizarre, urban limbo, I’m excited to explore and learn from the city that I’m tentatively calling home.