This, The Year of Our Pandemic, 2022

It can be difficult to nail down a change in perspective. Sometimes, you know the change was within you. You see the world a different way now. Some part of how you interact with and perceive the world is different. Sometimes, the world has changed, either gradually or suddenly doesn’t matter since you tend to notice it all at once regardless. What is within your view has been altered and now things look different to eyes that have largely remained the same. Sometimes, the world hasn’t changed and you haven’t changed, but you’ve noticed something for the first time.

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of these apply. I do not know that anything has changed, within or without, or if I’m just now noticing something for the first time. It could just be a bad day. It could just be the holidays. It could be both of these things and all of the perspective options I listed above, all at once. I doubt I will ever get an answer, though that doesn’t mean the question isn’t worth asking. Lots of unknowable things are worth pondering.

I feel like the world is fracturing. There are, of course, the big and obvious ways as politics interferes with progress, equity, and protecting the world. But there are a lot of small things, too. I feel like people used to be more patient and polite at the grocery store. I feel like people used to be more considerate when driving–better prepared to at least stay out of each other’s ways. I feel like people used to be a group more easily, to willingly participate in being a part of a whole and working to better things for the whole rather than just themselves.

If I had to pick one, I think I would say that people were always like this, that people have always acted this way and I just never noticed it the same way I do now. I don’t think my perspective has changed, but after almost two years of this pandemic raging across the globe, I would be remiss to say I have not changed. I have, of course, but not always in ways I can easily identify. I want to say that the world has changed, that the people in it have altered their behavior in a way that makes these boundaries and lines more noticeable. I want to believe that this was a change that can be changed again. I really, really do.

But I think I know better. People didn’t just wake up and decide they were going to become the sort of person who refuses to wear a mask or purposefully wears it wrong. People didn’t step out of their house one morning and decide that they were going to become the sort of person who drives out into the middle of an intersection when their pathway is blocked so that people whose pathway was unobstructed are now just as stuck at the traffic light as them. Individuals might have, though I doubt it was a conscious choice in a way that altered who they were. The sort of person you are is the result of a lifetime of choices, influences, and reactions. You don’t just wake up one morning as a completely different person. You didn’t become that person in an instant, you did so gradually and willfully.

I guess it’s just easier to spot people who don’t care about others, now. It is easier to determine when someone is simply going through the motions because of societal expectations versus when they truly have the good of their community and those around them in mind. It is frustratingly, upsettingly easy to tell when someone is incredibly selfish, thoughtless, or self-centered now.

There’s an inertia to “people” and their behavior that resists change, that resists inconvenience, that seeks to keep their view of the world narrow and small because anything more than that is easily overwhelming. It isn’t necessarily right or wrong, good or evil. It just is. People who wear their masks beneath their nose probably don’t really think about proper mask wearing much at all. It can slip so easily, especially if no one has ever told you that the strip of metal across the bridge of your nose is supposed to be bent to hold it close to your nose, not to provide open vents for the air you’re breathing in and out. Sometimes, you are in a hurry and winding up in the intersection after the traffic light has changed isn’t a malicious choice but a result of your hurry and an incorrect assumption that whatever is preventing you from moving forward will clear up any second now.

Sometimes, the fear that seems to pervade society for so many people now, as a virus sweeps through the world and everyone seems to be getting or have gotten sick, as so many voices shout over each other that theirs is the only one worth listening to about this pandemic, as fear and emotion are given primacy over reason, is enough for people to stay to their little islands. It is easier to be alone, after all, than to figure out who you can trust at a glance.

I wish I had answers. I wish I understood. I wish I could do more than postulate and meander my way through a thinking exercise about considering the context of other people’s lives. I wish I had a million dollars, since I’m already wishing for things I’ll probably never get. Since I will not be getting any of those things, I will have to settle for being vigilant while driving, doing my best to anticipate the behavior of others that might put me at risk, and for extending whatever grace and empathy I can afford to those around me who are falling short of my hopes for them. It is exhausting, to be sure, but I feel like it is the best I can do.

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