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Jim McDermottMay 11, 2023
a crayon drawing with covid 19 and a map on itPhoto via iStock.

I’m sure a lot of think pieces have considered the pandemic. I say “I’m sure” with some hesitation because I have avoided reading any of them. Right now, I don’t want to look back at the last three years. Not for a very long time. Even experiences that I felt good about in the wake of the end of quarantine now seem hot to the touch somehow, like there’s a roaring fire somewhere just behind them.

The image of a time capsule comes to mind. If I could take any keepsakes or memories of some sort from the last three years and store them away for future generations to have, what might I include?

Right away, I recall a video Broadway.com did about a month after the pandemic began. In it, Broadway stars celebrate the 90th birthday of the composer Stephen Sondheim. It was, at first, a great example of Early Covid Zoom Disasters. The links were wrong. The feed didn’t kick in. People online freaked out.

But then, when it all got synced up, it was something really special, like a Sondheim lyric, really, a quiet little pocket of life in the midst of something bruising and horrible.

I don’t know if any of that could convey what I felt during the pandemic, or even whether any of it would seem meaningful rather than a pile of someone’s collected junk.

So many videos like that got me through the pandemic. Liz Callaway singing “Beautiful City” as she drove in her car just a month before everything locked down. So manydancers performing. America’s spooky and yet somehow endearing dad, director David Lynch, doing his weather report every day (which he continued to do until the end of 2022). The Wise Children theatrical production of “Romantics Anonymous,” which they streamed online from an empty theater. I had no idea how much it would mean to me to see theater being performed live during the pandemic, the visceral feelings of sadness but also of hope that it would conjure.

I think I’d also put in that time capsule the Christmas lights I used to decorate one corner of my room for about a year during the pandemic. So many other people kept their lights up in their homes for months or years on end to offer cheer to themselves and others. I’d include, too, the keyboard that I bought and that I adore, and the PlayStation 4 that gave me adventures to escape into.

I don’t know if any of that could convey what I felt during the pandemic, or even whether any of it would seem meaningful rather than a pile of someone’s collected junk. “Why did he send us yoga videos?” I can see some 22nd-century kids wondering. Because Yoga With Adriene” helped me and so many others to treat ourselves and our bodies with compassion and gentleness at a time when so much else was freaking us out, that’s why.

I especially wonder if people in the future will be able to appreciate the incredible spirit of generosity underneath so many of these objects, how much people went out of their way to help total strangers by putting something beautiful into the world. I think a lot of that has gotten lost in what came later, the waves of conflict. But even now, that kind of charity stuns me.

Maybe our descendants won’t understand any of these things we have left them, or the history we have written. Maybe in a couple years children will look on this period in the way that I looked upon Vietnam or my nephews and nieces look upon 9/11, as this thing that people always talk about but I can’t quite get that interested in. It’s in the past.

That’s okay. The videos that helped sustain me aren’t for normal times. They’re for when normal runs out and you’re left with no idea what comes next. Maybe future generations will never need to play Animal Crossing or binge “Inspector Morse” or watch the videos that meant so much to me.

If someday future generations do find themselves in a crazy place of their own, though, I hope this can help.

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