Longing For The Early Days Of The Pandemic? It’s Called Pandemic Nostalgia

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Heymrpatrick/Getty

How insane is it that we’ve been living in a pandemic world for 18 months? We’re all running on empty and frustrated by this time that has somehow flown by while simultaneously dragging. If you can, remember back to the days when we first heard the words “the novel coronavirus.” It definitely felt different back then. In the beginning there was a sense that things would blow over in no time, but even though it never did, we tried to make lemonade out of lemons. Which, yes, we used as a mixer for vodka as time went on.

The spring of 2020 was a wild ride of uncertainty and apprehension, facing a world that was totally turned upside down. In retrospect, there was some bizarre sort of reassurance that we were all in this together. Until we weren’t. Ah, pandemic nostalgia.

You see, different people had different experiences. Were you a working parent who turned into a teacher overnight? Or a person who adapted to remote work without warning? Maybe a high school senior who missed out on spring break, prom, and graduation? Or, hardest of all, lost a loved one too soon. We all lost something. This past year and a half is time we will never get back. So, is there really any sense in looking back on what has been?

What Is Pandemic Nostalgia?

Meriam-Webster defines nostalgia as pleasure and sadness caused by remembering something from the past and wishing you could experience it again. But pandemic nostalgia? I mean, was there really any pleasure? And aren’t we still living it? In all honestly, once we get out of all this, I’ll be good if it never happens ever again. Not in my lifetime, not in my kids’, and not in their kids’. Of course, science reminds us that this hasn’t been the first, and it certainly won’t be the last time a pandemic of this nature occurs. So what exactly are we nostalgic about?

According to Andrew Abeyta, a psychology professor who studies nostalgia and memory formation, “Reminiscing about things that came out of the pandemic is people’s way of making sense of, and growing from the experience.” Hmm. When you put it like that, I suppose it makes sense. In the beginning, the phrase “We’re all in this together” graced every TV commercial, every email, and every podcast episode. You couldn’t step sideways without running into the message.

Depending on your circumstance, the beginning of the pandemic felt less like chaos and more like a chance to slow down. There was nowhere to go and no people to see. You had all the time to pick up a new hobby, start a new side hustle, or work on yourself. We communicated with your loved ones more often and with more sincerity. Things felt simpler. Well, that is if you were in the camp of people who only had themselves to worry about.

It’s understandable that people are nostalgic for the beginning. When we were into baking bread and cheering hospital staff instead of threatening their lives. Where we made paper hearts to put in our windows to remind our children that as hard as it can be, humanity always wins. Because when you realize that a helluva lot of the people you thought you knew were the complete opposite of who you believed them to be, it’s a hard truth to accept.

Stuck Between Then and Now Is A Hard Place to Be

As for the rest of us, the idea that we were all in this together fell apart pretty rapidly. As much as we wanted to believe it, humanity and other events began to prove that maybe this wasn’t quite the case. Our entire world was turned upside down from day one. There was no slowing down, and no end to the hyper-vigilance to keep those we loved safe. We went from grabbing extra masks and sanitizers for our neighbors to wondering why they decided to not use them anymore.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen the largest social justice movements since the 1960s, and we (more or less) voted to bring more logical voices to Washington. On the flip side, we’ve also come to the brink of a dictatorship and have borne witness to an almost-coup by domestic terrorists. Honestly, life feels more like fiction these days and less like reality, but in the end, it is what it is. So, where do we go from here?

A year and a half is a long time, and even after all this time, we’re still in it. We’re still pushing through every single day and wondering how the hell we made it. After all, we are still in it. Being nostalgic for something that you’re still living is confusing at best. While some of the world has decided they will take the risk and go back to how things used to be, the rest of us are still waiting to see what this “new normal” holds.

There are many things that will be left behind from the time before the pandemic, but a few things are worth carrying forward, like kindness, compassion, and the sense that we are all one big human family just trying to figure out how to navigate this mess. That’s what I’m nostalgic for.

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