We’ve been on a long and arduous journey this past year. Only if we reach back more than 12 months can we remember what it was like before the pandemic descended upon our world. It’s time now to reflect and take stock during this sorrowful one-year anniversary and to also look forward to returning home to our old lives.
On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. At that point, 118,000 people in 114 countries had contracted the disease with 4,300 fatalities. Today, roughly a year later, there are more than 119 million people in 185 countries who have contracted the disease with more than 2.6 million fatalities.
These numbers paint a startling picture of a pandemic that spread like wildfire across the globe. Our lives changed so quickly and completely. It was like we were all caught up in a whirlwind that transported us to a dark land of sadness, anxiety, and pain.
This year of pandemic has been like something out of the classic 1939 MGM musical “The Wizard of Oz.” Like Dorothy and Toto, we have been transported against our will and without warning to a frightening place fraught with unknown dangers. Like those fictional characters, we have also found companions to join us on our journey.
Unlike Dorothy and Toto, we are not dreaming an escape from a dreary and drab sepia-tinted black-and-white Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz. For many, our pre-pandemic world was a color-rich wonderland that faded into a dreary and drab sepia-tinted black-and-white Land of Pandemic. Unfortunately, unlike the young girl and her dog, our journey was not a dream but very much a stark reality full of sadness and death.
The film was based on L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900. In the book, Dorothy states: “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home." Indeed, most of us desperately want to go home.
It is so very true that we now inhibit a minimalist world lacking many freedoms and benefits we once enjoyed. It has been a year without color, warmth, and closeness. But was our pre-pandemic world the technicolor utopia we now remember?
Baum wrote about how the people of the Emerald City were given a little help to believe how beautiful their city was. Each was required to wear green-tinted glasses to enrich their views of their world. As the Wizard of Oz states, “My people have been wearing green glasses on their eyes for so long that most of them think this really is an Emerald City.”
By all means, it is time for us to return home from this dreary Land of Pandemic. But we must return prepared to see our world more accurately without the tinted glasses. We do need to appreciate the wonderful things we did have, but we also need to be realistic that we have a long way to go to reach a lovely home for all.
We collectively have realized that we have the courage to defeat the disease, that we have the brains to outwit it by creating safe and effective vaccines, and that we have the heart to care for one another through the worst event of our generation.
We have come together. We clicked our heels together three times. We were challenged, and we discovered that all we had to do was believe in ourselves and we could win, defeat the virus, and return home.
Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for nearly three decades at Inver Hills Community College. He also is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.