One year ago today, Minnesota governor Tim Walz issued Emergency Executive Order 20-20 directing residents to stay at home in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back, I remember thinking of it—rather selfishly—as something of a nuisance insofar as I had important plans at work that had to be canceled. I had heard of coronavirus by that point of course, but I knew little about it—save that it was rapidly becoming an unavoidable reality. I could scarcely have imagined the extent to which everything would change, to say nothing of the heartache endured by so many people, brought about by lives lost and protracted isolation.

A year later, and so much has happened—good and bad. Millions are dead worldwide, jobs have been lost, physical and mental health have deteriorated, and social and racial inequities—long predating the pandemic—have been cruelly amplified. 

Even so, there is reason for hope. Vaccinations are increasing, new jobs are emerging, restrictions are relaxing, and people are going out and doing things they enjoy. Doubtless there is a long way to go before we reach a “new normal,” and there is much work yet to be done for those most marginalized by this crisis, but in the shadow of all that has been lost there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.

With better days in the offing, I suppose it is only natural to pause and reflect. I have a renewed appreciation for the fragility of civilization and the paradoxical intertwining of human frailty and resilience. I suppose, too, that this crisis is not altogether different from any other insofar as it has brought out the best in some and the worst in others. I suspect that for many of us, myself included, the best and worst have coincided—hopefully overcome by what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Among those better angels are those in my circle who, unlike me, did not have the luxury of working from home. Instead, they had to operate fully exposed to the virus under extraordinarily difficult, and even dangerous circumstances. Too numerous to name here, I’m talking about all the people I know who work in healthcare, childcare, education, food production, EMS, and other vital areas without whom the whole system would have failed.  You were out in front of this thing from day one, and all I really have to offer is a simple, yet ardent thank you. Your sacrifices will not soon be forgotten.

Posted by Mark Zobel