On what feels like the 1998th day of March, this pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Even with the vaccine rollout beginning, experts are estimating it won't be available in a widespread way until at least April, and there’s a good chance they’ll recommend we keep up on public health measures like masking beyond that. And a vaccine won’t change what we’ve witnessed in the last nine-or-so months. Over 300,000 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in the United States, with that number continuing to climb. We’ve seen friends and family lose their jobs and their livelihoods. The economy is in trouble. Flaws in our health care system are more glaring than ever and everyone is trying to prepare for what is next in the course of this life-altering virus.
But despite the heartbreaking reality that still surrounds us, a lot of people are...carrying on like everything is fine. The weekend leading up to Thanksgiving saw a record high number of travelers since mid-March. Many people will probably travel for the upcoming holidays as well. Some people are Instagramming party pics from some alternate universe where the pandemic doesn't exist. These decisions seem to be underscored with messages of optimism and hope: We’re being as safe as possible, what are the chances we actually get sick, anyway? I stuck to CDC recommendations for months, don’t I deserve a break? Isn’t time with loved ones more precious than ever? Things will be just fine, right?
This kind of messaging—the insistence that everything will be okay, that we should look on the bright side no matter what, that we’ll definitely make it through this—has been present in one form or another since March. It goes beyond a garden-variety attempt to find hope when everything feels hopeless and has entered territory known as toxic positivity. And it’s long past time we retire it.
To be honest? I was not only a consumer but a purveyor of a different form of toxic positivity. At the beginning of the pandemic, the bright side du jour was that we should be grateful for the slowed-down nature of The Times and take advantage of lockdown to pursue new hobbies or get shit done. I even posted my own crappy little think piece on my Instagram about how much more we’ll all appreciate one another when things go back to normal. As a chronically depressed person, I remember feeling so proud that I was able to reach such a noble state of positivity for such a dark period of history. I saw the silver lining and was basking in its carefree glow, thank you very much! This would be over soon! We’d all be okay with minimal damage! I pushed aside any thoughts or news that crept in my direction that suggested otherwise. I wasn’t ready to come to terms with it.
As it turns out, I didn’t have a choice in that matter, as all of this changed on April 24th. I received an afternoon phone call from my dad. My granny had contracted COVID-19.
I don’t remember much of the conversation that followed. I know he mentioned low blood oxygen levels. That she was comfortable at a nearby hospital but to prepare myself as it didn’t look good. And, no, we weren’t going to be able to see her.
Days later, at around 4 AM on April 27th, my sweet granny left us. All at once, the bright side I had basked in abruptly eclipsed, leaving nothing behind but a shadow of hope rendered totally useless. Suddenly, looking at all the “positives” seemed empty and utterly tactless. After all, how was I supposed to make the most of a pandemic when it took one of my favorite people away? What possible bright side could exist in a world where I couldn’t properly say goodbye to my granny?