Should I be renaming this series the Post-Pandemic Diaries now? According to most world leaders the pandemic is over, and yet it’s also not? They say things are back to normal, people should be back to normal and life should resume as per usual, and yet….
We are all so emotionally, physically and mentally depleted from the last two and a half years that we aren’t the same people anymore and have very shallow emotional wells to draw on. Societal problems that existed before the pandemic have been exacerbated and poverty is worse, mental health is worse, homelessness is worse, marginalized people have been pushed even further to the fringes of society and the cracks in society have been even more deeply exposed.
I just finished reading The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah—a powerful and heart breaking novel about the dust bowl migration during the Great Depression. From 1930 – 1940 over 3.5 million people left their homes in the Great Plains due to years of drought, horrific dust storms and the financial crisis. On some farms, giant cracks would appear in the earth due to topsoil erosion that the farmers had unknowingly partly caused themselves—a fact that only added to their despair when they learned it. These cracks would sometimes swallow up livestock, buildings or even people when they appeared out of nowhere. Then dust storms so intense and powerful would hit that people described them as “black blizzards” that would wipe out all light. People were forced to cover their noses in Vaseline and wear masks and board up their homes. Dust would permeate everything—including people’s lungs. Many people died from “dust pneumonia” because the dust would simply settle on top of their lungs, suffocating them in the process.
So people fled, putting whatever they could carry piled up high in hand carts or in cars or trucks if they were lucky enough to have money for gas. They drove, walked or hitch hiked to California where they were promised lands of milk and honey and most importantly—jobs. When they arrived there as refugees and migrants they were treated like the dirt they had just fled. They were seen as filthy, disease-ridden migrants who wanted hand outs and to steal Californians’ jobs. They were nicknamed “Okies” referring to the massive amount of people who fled Oklahoma, the worst hit state. Due to the depression, from 1929 – 1935 the US government had formally deported around 82,000 Mexicans, many of whom were poorly paid farm workers, in order to make jobs for Americans. These dust bowl migrants took their places but there were not enough jobs to go round, they often weren’t paid living wages if they did get work and poverty and homelessness became prevalent, as well as side-of-the-road migrant camps with horrific living conditions. To say this decade of American history was bleak is a rather massive dust-stormed-sized understatement. The Great Depression remains the worst world-wide financial crisis in history.
In this past year I find myself drawn to cataclysmic stories from history, from World War II to the Great Depression and other world events that shaped people and shook us up. When things this huge happen, society is inevitably forced to confront its issues. Good things can and do come from them and humans are ever resilient, creative and resourceful. Farmers in the Great Plains learned dry soil farming techniques that eventually saved the land. Many dust bowl migrants in California did find ways to put down roots and thrive and their ancestors still live there to this day. Society often lurches forward after these large scale events in ways that give people more liberty and equality and as a whole it does progress, even when it sometimes seems like we’re moving backwards.
And yet, I worry that our society seems to be glossing over what we’ve all just been through. I worry that we haven’t learned the things we need to learn from the pandemic. I want us to all be able to take a moment and process this together. The cracks have opened up, but who is going to fill them? At the beginning of the pandemic the one luxury that many of us (except frontline workers, of course) suddenly had was time—time for friends and family (even if it was on Zoom), time for hobbies, time to just be. Now it feels like the frenetic pre-pandemic pace of life has come back and yet we aren’t ready for it, or we’re pretending like we’re all okay. I just want to say, it’s okay if you’re not. I know I’m not there yet.
What I want more than anything on a personal level is to be the Kristi that I was back in December 2019, but I suppose there’s no going back. I only hope I can bring more compassion, empathy, kindness and concern for others, particularly those who can’t help themselves, into my daily life. I want to have the capacity to do more for the world. Not to sound too cheesy, but I really do want to somehow make it a better place. It can be overwhelming to even know where to start, particularly when you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water in your own life, but I’d like to believe that there are things I can do to fight the societal dust storms of our times, and to help us all heal from our most recent one.