A Year Like No Other

By Guest Contributor Phil Garber.

A year ago today, March 5, 2020, the leaves were about to bud and I could sense that spring was coming, my life was in predictable emotional disarray and I couldn’t wait to hop on my motorcycle, I was about 20 pounds lighter than I am now and was working out at the gym daily, undoubtedly my hair was slightly less white and my job was chugging along, if not a thrill, at least it was a dependable source of income. I hardly lived a carefree life but compared with what lay ahead, I was in Shangri-La.


Like so many other people, my world was ripped apart on Sept. 11, 2001, and it felt then like I was living in the middle of some never ending sadistic nightmare that was thrust upon me and that I was powerless to change. Somehow I got through it although certainly not unscathed emotionally and psychologically and now it was about to happen again only this time it would make the terrorist attacks look like a minor skirmish as hundreds of thousands would die and if you asked me a year ago if I feared a plague was coming, I would have said I was sure it would all quickly pass because this was not medieval Europe, it was the most technologically advanced civilization ever.

It had been about three months since a 55-year-old person from Hubei province in China was believed to have been the world’s first person to contract the COVID-19 disease. On March 4, 2020, New Jersey officials announced the first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in the state as a man in his 30s was hospitalized in Bergen County.

One year ago today, California declared a state of emergency after the first person in the country died of coronavirus after he got sick aboard the Grand Princess ship after a trip to Mexico. And then the proverbial shit hit the fan as the rate of infections quickly went haywire and by April 1,2020, the U.S. had 85,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 1,300 deaths, passing more than China for the dubious title of world’s leader. This was no April Fools Day joke and our leaders kept telling us that it probably wouldn’t get much worse.

Suddenly, the new dystopian world started to show itself. We were told to stay inside our homes, to wear masks if we had to go to the supermarket where people hoarded everything, most notably that most valuable of commodities, toilet paper. No more physical contact with anyone outside of the immediate family, no group birthday parties for kids, no handshakes, no fist bumps. Schools, restaurants, movie theaters all closed, no more airline travel, no vacations unless it was to the backyard barbecue, my beloved gym padlocked the doors, the barber shop was off bounds, the municipal swimming pool was drained, people had video therapy sessions, professional sports retreated to find some way to salvage something, there was no way to test for the plague and everybody shivered at the first sneeze or chest congestion and people were scared witless.

I decided to write a daily blog to record my thoughts and emotions but mostly to keep myself sane or relatively so. In my first blog on April 14, 2020, I wrote “The brain is like a slab of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy; one good whack and it crumbles into a million pieces. Trying to hold it together in the best of times is a challenge. Now, it takes a Herculean effort or even an Olympic effort.”

And that about sums up the past year, finding a way to hold it together and more to the point, how to keep my life, my world from unraveling into nothingness. I don’t know how we were able to survive but I saw it as a success if I could put one foot in front of the other every day. Are we so much more resilient than we thought or are we just so much better at living in denial? I think denial works wonders.

And now what? My brain chemistry has been changed so there is no going back. Will life ever feel normal again or will we always be waiting for the next Armageddon, perhaps nuclear war or the continuing, irreversible destruction brought on by climate change? Maybe the lesson to be learned is that we are so terribly fragile and that living in fear of that fragility is not living, but merely existing until life ends. We now know in our hearts that our world could end without warning and the only way to survive is to look at the future, raise a middle finger, and move on.

And for as lonely and bleak as it may have felt during the plague, it was a time for taking long walks and reflecting on the world, for spending more time with family and getting to know each other better and perhaps most importantly, for being grateful that in the middle of this terrible plague, against what seemed to be all odds, we have survived to see another day, so far.

Editor's note: Phil Garber has been a Journalist for 40 years and has won the journalist of the year award twice from the New Jersey Press Association. He may be reached at garbertoo@gmail.com.

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