Year in Review: Do You Remember Your Last “Normal” Day Of 2020?
I was working a morning shift at a small-town Kansas library I’d been employed at since the previous November.
I didn’t know it then, but it was one of the last days the library would remain open before shutting down for several months due to precautions brought on by the Pandemic.
More than the day itself, I remember the feeling that lingered in the air.
It was Wednesday, March 11th, two days before the U.S. would declare a National Emergency.
There was a tense energy buzzing around. I could feel it radiating off the patrons that hesitantly yet hurriedly made their way into and back out of the building — their arms and bags full of books, movies, or whatever else they’d grabbed to curtail their and their children’s minds from the hell-storm that looked to be crawling its way across the country.
Where I was, placed in a town with no more than 5,000 people, smack-dab in the middle of the Great Plains states, nothing had happened yet.
No masks were worn.
No stay-at-home orders given.
No positive cases reported.
People could still touch.
Sports were still ongoing and schools, restaurants, bars, and businesses were still open.
Life was… normal.
I was at my usual position, manning the circulation desk at the entrance of the library. I’d watched people coming and going all morning, and I’d briefly chatted with fellow staff members along with a few patrons about the news of the mysterious virus that was, without hesitation, spreading.
Some believed it was nothing worth getting concerned about.
Others believed it would be our demise.
And then there were those who did their best to pay it no mind at all. They went about their normal routines because if they kept pretending things were still the same… then maybe they would be.
While people buzzed around me, my mind did its own buzzing around thoughts, theories, and even a few conspiracies relating to this new, mysterious virus. My fingers held out on searching for the truth — or some form of it — for as long as they could, but by noon they couldn’t resist any longer. They placed themselves on the keyboard before me, pulled up Google, and typed “Latest Coronavirus News,” into the search bar.
As my eyes skimmed the news stories filled with predictions made by the ones deemed our leaders and top experts in their field, I felt for the first time all morning my own anxious energy arise.
I was suddenly aware in a way I’d never been before of everything I’d touched that day, and each breath I took.
Whatever this ‘virus’ was, it was already everywhere. Slithering its way through one destination after the next — digging roots that weren’t easily going to be eradicated. These thoughts alone were jarring, but as many of us probably felt, the warnings of how drastically our lives were about to change for the “foreseeable future” were the most unbelievable.
I’ve always been the kind that feels a sense of false comfort in knowing.
When I’m afraid of something, rather than turning a blind eye, I’ll usually dive right into the belly of the beast — learning more about the topic and doing my best to understand it. It makes me feel better prepared to make a judgment call if a worst-case scenario arises… Even though I know all I’m doing is likely clinging to false hope.
So, I did what I do best when trying to learn about something that frightens me. I read.
And read and read and read.
Though I’d skimmed a handful of articles about the virus since I first heard about it in December, I’d done that reading more out of curiosity than fear.
This time, my reading was more directed.
Instead of letting my curiosity of how the virus had come to be and where it was and how fast it was spreading guide my article selections, I spent the rest of the afternoon focused more on pieces that talked about what to expect, what precautions to take, and how serious this whole debacle was panning out to be.
While sparse flocks of patrons swept in and out of the library, each fit with an underlying tension that couldn’t be denied, I smiled the warmest smile I could, mustered the strength of a steady voice, and in the stolen moments where it was only me and the computer, I researched.
When I look back now, I believe we all knew something big was coming.
But I also think we had no idea how quickly it would arrive.
I for one can vouch I hadn’t the slightest idea that when I walked out of the library that day, it would be the last day I’d work for months, and the last (mostly) normal day I’d work for the rest of the year.
When I got home that afternoon, the first thing I did was head out for a walk hoping to ease my mind. Yet all I could do was focus on the feeling of the sweet air flooding my lungs, noticing how easily it did so without confinement.
By 5 pm I’d poured a gin and tonic to steady my nerves, and flipped on the evening news — one thing I rarely did on weeknights, and the other I never did.
It was over the next 24 hours that everything changed.
As more cases popped up across the nation, the virus made its appearance in every state except for two. Trump banned all international air travel, while concerts, St. Patty’s day Parades, and nationwide events began canceling. The NBA and NHL were the first ones to declare they were done for the season, and the MLB postponed their spring training. Universities and schools began closing and resorting to online learning, while headlines about a lack of gloves, masks, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and food flooded every news outlet.
It was only the beginning of what would become the downward spiral of the rest of 2020.
I started keeping a journal that day — tallying up the numbers, recording any big “newsworthy” events, and adding in the occasional documentation of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
I knew little about what was still to come, but what I did know was that we were all living through a time that was going to go down in history.
As the year comes to a close, it only feels right to look back at its beginning. Reading through my notes, stories, and feelings from those early days of the Pandemic, I can see just how drastically everything changed and how quickly our current state evolved.
It was as if one day everything was normal, and as such tragedies go, the next, it was not.
As I think back and remember that last ordinary day, I wonder, how many others can recall how they spent their last normal day of 2020?