At the end of every “South Park” episode, Stan would take center stage and say, “We’ve learned something today.” As vaccines roll out and I contemplate my pre-pandemic social circles, I feel a little like Stan. Very, very soon, a reckoning is coming. We will be forced to pause and take stock. What have we learned? People’s behavior during the pandemic has laid their values and virtues bare. We have watched them live through one of the worst of American tragedies. What mattered to them? How did they act? And in many cases, can we forgive post-COVID-19?
I’ve spent most of the pandemic feeling like the kid doing all the work on a group project. We stayed at home almost exclusively; we masked and distanced religiously. We did not go out. We were able to do this, so we did. When I speak of post-COVID-19 forgiveness, I’m not talking about economic necessities. People have to work. They aren’t all lucky enough to work remotely.
And I’m not speaking about compromises made to get a family through a tough time. Parents, I’m not talking about a decision to send your kids back to school. I don’t agree with it. But you did what you needed to do for your family, and I respect it.
I mean acts that demand real, true forgiveness post-COVID-19.
Post-COVID-19, Can We Forgive Pandemic Lying?
What do we do about the liars? You know those. Can we forgive the people who, knowing we wouldn’t approve of their choices, made them anyway and lied about them? During the pandemic, we learned, in many cases, who will lie to us and who will not, especially when stakes are high. They decided they had a right to make decisions about our health. In my case, they decided their right to hang with friends trumped infecting my asthmatic husband.
Post-COVID-19, do we pretend that lying never happened? After all, these people seemed to be trustworthy in smaller matters. In the day-to-day fabric of life, they’d seemed like people we could rely on. But post-COVID-19, that foundation has been shaken.
Can We Forgive the Anti-Maskers?
What about the people in our lives who refused to wear masks? During the pandemic, this was the height of selfishness. People did it for one of two reasons. Some of them didn’t believe basic science. They denied that fundamental disease-control measures worked, and they likely did so for political reasons. Post-COVID-19, how do we handle that? We learned they value politics more than public health. We also learned they’re dumber than we thought.
Then there are people who knew masks worked, but didn’t wear them anyway. They claimed that masks were uncomfortable, or fogged up their glasses, or whateverthehell. They denied a basic public health measure out of pure selfishness. Like, “Hi, I’d rather kill your grandma than be a little uncomfortable.” Post-COVID-19, how do we look at those people and pretend that selfishness never happened? These people revealed something important about their characters.
Post-COVID-19, Can We Forgive the Cheaters?
You know who I mean. There’s a great SNL skit where characters have their fortunes told for 2021, and one of them is informed he’ll lose all his friends because he commits the unthinkable: he dines inside at a restaurant. Post-COVID-19, what do we do about the bunglers?
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you did your damnedest to do everything within your capacity right. I don’t mean you became the perfect agoraphobic and sterilized your Amazon packages. But you did your best with what you had. Then you saw friends disregarding CDC guidelines to get their hair cut, or visit a restaurant, or go to the mall.
All we had to do was stay home.
Post-COVID-19, how do we handle our resentment towards those people who didn’t really experience the pandemic? It may have been a minor inconvenience, but it didn’t stop them from eating at Outback! Will we treat those people any differently? Do we swallow our anger, or confront them, or ignore it? Do we pretend nothing ever happened? Or do we remember that great line from The Talking Heads “Nothing But Flowers“: And as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention.
What About The Estrangements?
The most painful question comes when we talk about COVID-19 estrangements. They’re real. They happened. And they hurt.
Maybe one family member disagreed with how another handled the pandemic. Maybe that was enough to stop them from speaking to another. But hold the phone, a disagreement in how someone handled a pandemic was enough to cause an estrangement. Not “we can’t see you, but we’ll talk over Zoom.” Nope, full-on radio silence. Post-COVID-19, can we go back to normal? The pandemic ended. Can’t the estrangement end?
Loud and clear: if you ditched family or friends over how they handled a pandemic, then expect to be welcomed back with open arms post-COVID-19, you’re seriously misguided. This goes for me calling out local moms partying it up while a pandemic rages: I can’t expect them to forget that. Estrangement over a pandemic shows that your relationship was strained to begin with. It shows, at worst, that there was something toxic going on there from the beginning, and coming back together would be a long, slow process.
I told my 11-year-old what I was writing about recently, and explained the concept of post-COVID-19 forgiveness. He snorted. “No, we shouldn’t forgive them,” he said. “They showed us who they really are.”
I tend to agree. People showed us that they valued their Target trips over the sick and the elderly. They’d lie and manipulate to get what they wanted. They would rather believe in an orange liar-in-chief than science. And when things got hard, they weren’t willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.
I don’t want to be friends with those people.
I don’t know what a post-COVID-19 world will look like. But I know those people will not be in mine.