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Jim McDermottMarch 23, 2022
A woman prays at the closed doors of London's Westminster Cathedral in early April 2020 during England’s lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.A woman prays at the closed doors of London's Westminster Cathedral in early April 2020 during England’s lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Jonathan Brady, PA Images via Reuters)

Last week, New York City and a lot of other places across the United States marked the second anniversary of our pandemic lockdown. Sometime around March 15, 2020, many of us were told to stay home from our jobs, our schools and our churches until the danger had passed. It would be a few weeks, we thought. O.K., maybe a few months. In Los Angeles, where I lived at the time, teachers weren’t able to go back to in-person teaching in their classrooms for a year and a half. As of late March 2022, some people I know weren’t back in their offices until this month, and one friend just this week.

As the anniversary approached, I imagined it would be a big deal precisely because so much has gone back to normal. In New York, masks are still required at theaters and on public transportation, but otherwise many things seem almost entirely like they had been before the pandemic. After a few anxious months contending with the Omicron variant, everything reset externally to 2019 almost overnight. But maybe we all reset internally as well, because the anniversary was barely reported on.

[Related: Five spiritual tips to help you avoid pandemic despair]

Personally, I remember the many months spent alone distantly, like a crazy dare I had agreed to in college for some unremembered reason. At times I find myself unconsciously skipping over the past two years not only in conversation but even in thinking about recent events. It’s like the years 2020 and 2021 are mathematical null sets, a hole in the graph, containing and belonging to nothing.

•••

I spent part of my lockdown anniversary playing the new video game “Elden Ring.” Honestly, I’ve spent part of every evening lately playing the cursed thing. When my sister sent it to me, she warned me that her teenage son said it was ruining his life, and I can now confirm this is indeed the gaming experience. Where most swords and sorcery games raise the difficulty slowly, so that you can get a sense of how the game works and gain some confidence, within an hour of starting “Ring” I had been murdered by a dude on horseback (repeatedly), giant bats, a cave troll and a dragon. And still I go on because challenges make me crazy like that. (I also loved “Twin Peaks: The Return.”)

As almost nothing in “Elden Ring” is explained, it took me weeks to learn that if you ride your spirit horse Torrent over the glowing skulls that you find scattered here and there across the game’s decimated post-apocalyptic landscape, you’ll release wisdom that was hidden inside.

It’s a dumb little detail in a horrible game that is slowly eating out my own brain cavity. But I keep thinking maybe it’s also a metaphor for our life today. Even as lockdown was a nightmare—equal parts frightening, grief-stricken and dull—it was also a time of unexpected gifts. I mean that literally: All over the world, people made stuff for no other reason than to help other people. Strangers invited us to be part of their lives and sometimes even their communities because that just seemed like the right thing to do.

Amid all the emotions and hardships of the pandemic, how many of us also talked during the pandemic about its unimagined blessings?

Amid all the emotions and hardships of the pandemic, how many of us also talked during the pandemic about the unimagined blessings of getting to spend so much time with our kids, being forced to take walks, or even just experiencing the joy of sitting in your house watching the birds or listening to the rain?

The value of those experiences in our lives isn’t just momentary or anecdotal. The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its annual report on world happiness last week. The United States actually went up three places, being ranked as the 16th happiest country in the world.

I certainly understand not wanting to take the time to draw attention to the second anniversary of our recent surreal horror show. The world is opening up—why look back on our years and losses in Covid jail when we can finally look forward to the world?

But scattered across the landscape of the Null Years lie also so many moments of grace. They wait for us in our memories like little lanterns in a dark world, filled with hope and insights to be gathered up.

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