(This editorial was originally published last April, 2020. We think a rereading offers a valuable reflection of where the past 12 months have taken us and shown us both what we have and have not learned.)

Our “shelter in place” and declared public health emergency started here the day after all of Ireland canceled St. Patrick’s Day festivities on March 17. That cultural shock alone was enough to let us know this virus pandemic and economic disaster would be bringing permanent life-changes to all of us.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

And, now we are entering our holiest season of the year with no open churches, temples or mosques; no Easter Sunrise services, no Night Prayer gatherings and only Passover Seders behind closed doors. Our churches and places of worship are learning to Zoom, use Facebook Live and are congregating in common prayer via “streaming.” Just when all of us could use the great comfort of being together with prayers, songs and hugs, we must not dare.

Just as the Irish must wait a full year to tip a pint of Guinness in St. Patty’s revelry, our next Easter Services will not be until April 4, 2021. That will be after a year without our local parades and festivals, no major TV sports to watch, no dining out, no movie theater or concert nights, no high school graduation ceremonies, no funerals and, maybe not even walks along the ocean. These times will forever change all of us. We are just beginning to wonder in what ways.

It may take almost a year — or until a new coronavirus vaccine is found — but when this COVID-19 pandemic is past, we are certain our Easter celebrations, Apple Blossom and other hometown parades and even smaller moments will be celebrated with the spirit, joyfulness and libations of 100 Mardi Gras.

But what will the next many months of isolation, alarm and uncertainty do to us? For how long after will we fear crowds or any close contact with one another or strangers? How soon might we venture out or go visit other places? And, when will others be ready for a next Wine Country visit? Will we stay in our “virtual cocoons,” keep working at home, abandon regular school attendance and stop going to restaurants? Or, will we emerge with a whole new appreciation of personal contact, face-to-face conversation and a discovery of new ways to be a human being again?

These would be good questions to ask and ponder this Easter Sunday. This public health epidemic and economic upheaval of lost jobs and closed businesses is challenging what we most value. Is it our money, or another person’s life?  This is a supreme test for our society.

Because we see charts of how many people are dying every day and how the virus keeps getting closer to us, this “life or death” reality is not lost on our households, our community, our government and all of Earth’s inhabitants.

After next Easter (or some time soon thereafter), we will forever be living in a new place and society. Just as the Great Depression of the 1930s shaped generations, we must prepare for a post-pandemic world.

Lots of our present fears will follow us into this new world. The pre-pandemic fossil fuel industries, nationalist politicians and other opportunists and cowards will continue to lie to us about climate change, patterns of social injustice and income inequity in ways the COVID-19 virus cannot be denied.

We just learned that changing our daily habits, by sheltering in place, curbing our material desires and settling into new habits is “flattening the curve.” What we haven’t yet learned is how to apply this lesson about a coronavirus to how we might heal our society’s and economy’s ills.

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