This letter started a bit differently just a few weeks ago when I first sat down to write it. What began as a commentary on why we tell our stories and how they shape our communities quickly transitioned to telling the dramatic shift in my—indeed, our—personal story. With massive institutional closures unlike anything we’ve ever seen, widespread public lockdowns, and the potential for catastrophic public health outcomes, life looks a little different than it did back then. So, what do we do when our stories change? How do we cope with having to let go of a seemingly certain future?
These circumstances feel somewhat familiar to me. Every journalist has to frequently face and respond to rapidly changing events. One day your headline is front-page fodder and by the next news cycle it has been unceremoniously buried under the topic of the day.
New sources must be gathered at a moment’s notice, and much of your most important work must be done in haste with very few resources. In some cases, the stories end as quickly as they began and priorities shift without a moment’s hesitation. Sound familiar?
The COVID-19 pandemic will shape our stories differently, as it already has done for many of us. The adult child who tried desperately to protect her aging parents from the worst of the disease. The young student whose daily routine was upended in ways he didn’t quite understand. The social butterfly frustrated about missing that memory-making event. The college senior disappointed by the premature culmination of the four best years of her life. And, of course, those around the world whose lives were impacted deeply by the devastating effects of the coronavirus.
I’ve begun to come to terms with it myself. No matter how much my career has prepared me for such an upheaval, I, too, have been struggling with the reality of this sudden change in the story. Will this be something that we will remember a few years from now when the rigamarole of daily life begins to creep back to normalcy? How will we tell this story? Will this experience—fraught with great unknowns and anxieties and images of overflowing shopping carts—be part of our stories forever? Or will we quickly forget the pains of preventing a global pandemic and quietly resume life as we knew it?
After the headlines slowly fade to the typical fare, we may be unable to recall how we felt at this exact moment. The stories we tell about it today matter. Whether those stories suddenly change, slowly evolve, or eventually die, let’s make sure we use them to understand how they shaped us and how they brought us closer together.