On September 11, 2001, I was about three months into a year-long post-college internship at USA Today’s editorial page. I remember the amazingly clear blue sky of that morning, and I remember getting on the Metro and having someone announce to another passenger that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I got to work in Arlington, VA, it was clear that an attack was underway. One of my colleagues suddenly yelled that his wife had called from their home by the Pentagon to say that a plane had barreled in low. We went to the window to look and, sure enough, smoke was rising in the distance. As the head of the editorial page noted, “Well, there’s only one story.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is a more slow-build event than 9/11, but as with then, there is only one story. We are living through events that we know we will be talking about for a long time to come. In a few years we will be reading books analyzing what happened. While life will go back to something closer to normal, some changes will stick around. Once there wasn’t a TSA. It’s interesting to ponder what will stick from this (one obvious change: few organizations will be able to argue that nobody’s job can be done remotely).
Anyway, in the midst of big events, it can be tough to keep our heads above water. People facing job losses, or who are dealing with the virus in their immediate families, may have no extra capacity for thinking about the future. But for those who do, a suggestion: take a few minutes each day to write in a journal. Record what happened during these uncertain days. Record how people tried to keep a semblance of normalcy (we’ve done Zoom circle time for preschool and Zoom morning meeting for 4th grade. We’ve done Zoom piano lessons, Zoom karate, and have even attempted Zoom choir which…let’s just say is not supported by the software). Record what the grocery stores looked like (pictures might help too). Especially for people working in hospitals, immediate accounts of daily life will someday be incredibly important. Someday, we will be looking back on this. In retrospect, we tell stories in certain ways. But knowing how we actually felt and what we thought in the moment can make these stories more authentic. There will be details that get smoothed out in retrospective narratives. It is good to remember these details.
I’ve been taking a few minutes to write in my journal most nights. I keep my time logs, and I blog here, but I’d been a lax journal keeper in the past few years. I picked the journal back up right after the baby was born to record memories and thoughts about how he was growing. Then, in early March, it became a record of school closures, of trip cancelations, of our world narrowing into the space of this house.
I can’t say I’ve written anything profound. But someday when the baby grows up and asks me what his first few months of life were like, I will have these entries.* I will be able to describe what I was thinking and what we were doing. Since it only takes a few minutes to write these things down, it feels like an easy gift to my future self.
*Ok, most likely, unless we lose the journals, or the house gets flooded or…
Photo: I took this photo well over a year ago but I’m still in the same journal. Oh well. Consistency over volume.