One year ago, my wife and I went out for our anniversary dinner, only to see the first bricks of life as we knew it crumbling before our eyes.
Tucked into a quiet Italian restaurant, we shared the room with barely another soul. Across the room, we could see the owner, her head resting in the palms of her hands, elbows planted on the counter.
“I’ve had 60 cancellations tonight,” she said.
Her words proved no match for the pain projected in her voice.
Around the corner in the kitchen were special orders of perishables, extra staff and plans for an exceptional night.
But in the afternoon, the phone began ringing and did not stop.
COVID, previously a deadly virus spreading across the national news channels, now was in our neighborhood. Businesses were closing up, and, in this case, a nearby theater abruptly canceled the show that was anchoring the reservations.
There are moments in life we never forget where we were when they happened. Generally, there is a clearly defined moment on the shared clock — say the moment the second plane struck the Twin Towers. But with COVID, the virus seeped into our daily life and psyche in tiny degrees, like the boiling of water.
On that night, sitting in the restaurant for our anniversary dinner, the pot was finally boiling — and not with pasta.
At the time, we thought our nation would be impervious to the virus, or at least not face the scale of disruption playing across the television screens, newspapers and newsfeeds. But we were wrong.
A year later, and with more than 500,000 U.S. deaths related to COVID, I still wrestle with wrapping my head around the sheer number of lives lost, impacted or changed forever.
While the virus proves somewhat discriminating in terms of the lives it takes, there are no such selective criteria for the families and businesses shattered. No one, at least at this point, can say the pandemic did not impact them.
I remember an out-of-state friend drove this home during a call several months ago.
“Early in the summer, I didn’t know of anyone who had the virus,” he said. “By fall, I’d heard of several people who had gotten sick. Now I know more people who got it than I can count — and several died.”
Posting blame is not helpful. Dealing with the present is our only option. And encouragingly, we see signs of improvement in confirmed cases and death totals. But as we slowly regain our footing in this new normal, we need to remember how far this went in such a short time.
Practicing safe behaviors, determining whether COVID shots are for you and continuing to be respectful of others will be here for the foreseeable future.
And for my wife and me, we are headed back to the little Italian restaurant one year later. The restaurant and we traveled similar but different roads for the past 12 months but, importantly, we’re still standing and moving forward.