There will come a day, maybe even a day in the next few months, when Americans will wake up, come out of their homes, throw off their masks and resume their lives. On that day, the great coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2021 will be over.
Ridiculous, right? A consumption to be sincerely hoped for, but highly improbable.
Here’s the problem with anticipating the end of the pandemic: No one knows exactly what that end will look like or when it will come or even if they do know when we see it.
Will it be when most of the country is vaccinated? When schools are all safe to meet? When are COVID-19 hospital beds empty? When are the American baseball fields full for a summer baseball game? When will Disneyland reopen? When does wearing a mask seem weird again?
I don’t know if I see a specific ending, says Erica Rhodes, an actress from Los Angeles who has found unique ways to perform during the pandemic. I don’t foresee a point in time where I say, Oh, just exactly the way it was.
The kind of finish the coronavirus has in store for tired Americans has no distinct end. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a nation long formed, in some cases literally expecting well-defined and often optimistic conclusions at twisting sagas.
Finding light in the dark is a very American thing to do, President Joe Biden said this month. In fact, he says, it is perhaps the most American thing we do.
The problem is that the real world often doesn’t conform. Of course, the movies are free to resemble Independence Day, where a ragged band of Americans led by Will Smith defeats the invading enemy. Real life? More like the conclusion of The Sopranos, when it all goes dark, still unsolved as Journey sings that the movie never ends, it just goes on and on.
Clarity of purposesThe American ending mark borrowed from classic Greek storytelling, turned industrial force over four generations by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, looks something like this: A story ends with a specific resolution, usually after some action, some guy heroes or a character of great stature. development, and usually at a specific and noticeable time.
Are we moving towards this with the pandemic? Almost certainly not. And the gradual nature of things erases works, because it’s not over until it’s over, and even then it might not be over.
Not having that clarity, we’re not used to it, says Phil Johnston, Oscar-nominated writer and director who worked on Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia.
I guess everyone made their own version of this movie, he said, offering his own: I got to see a series dissolve over a long period of time. A guy leaves his house. He takes off his mask. He’s sitting in a restaurant. And then its passage of time, this long edit and this guy sits down and realizes, Oh, that’s life. Life is back to normal.
All kinds of important things that humans today endure do not have separate ends. Climate change. The war on terrorism. Persistent racism, sexism and homophobia. These stories come and go, but because they are not viewed as specific events, they are often viewed differently.
Something like the pandemic, however, despite its protracted nature, falls squarely into the public and media’s bucket of an event, and with that comes some expectation. Among them is a low-key ending.
We have this human tendency to structure our life events into plot points. It helps us create a more interpretable and predictable world, says Kaitlin Fitzgerald, a doctoral student at the University of Buffalo, SUNY, who studies the role emotion plays in the way stories are consumed.
But as we know in the real world, recovery isn’t a linear process and it doesn’t have a clearly defined end, she says. These popular media stories, they describe it as unfolding in a matter of minutes. It affects our expectations of how things should turn out. And when those expectations don’t match reality, it’s difficult.
Elaine Paravati Harrigan, Fitzgeralds research partner and visiting assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College, plunged into the same attitudes while teaching her psychology in a course on the pandemic last year.
Without some type of plan, I was just living life. And it can be confusing and overwhelming, she says. If I can think that there is some kind of arc, some kind of map that can help me understand my journey, it helps me find meaning in my daily life.
NAVIGATE TO THE END
Children have received this kind of attention over the past year or so as the adults in their lives help them navigate a positive end to the pandemic without offering false hope.
In my opinion, understanding this endgame piece will be really a challenge for adults. And it will be a challenge not to create the mindsets of children around him, says Chuck Herring, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the South Fayette School District, near Pittsburgh.
People keep talking about the end, the return to normal. I tell them, it’s not back to normal. At least not like a lot of people think, says Herring.
Nonetheless, the notion of an end exists for a reason: people need markers in their lives to show that they have been through things, that they move from one phase to another, that there is meaning to. what they endure.
This is why Jennifer Talarico, who studies how people remember personally experienced events, suggests that while there is no real time for the pandemic to end, it is nonetheless important to find a way. mark it.
I think of VE Day or VJ Day. This is clearly not the end of the war; it took longer. But we have those days when there was a big community party, says Talarico, professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.
We build relationships based on commonalities even though your story and my story are unique and may not have been shared back then. Sharing history becomes how we know each other, she says. So where did you go for Remembrance Day or Pandemicpalooza or whatever? Telling this story to younger generations years later can be a community moment.
Ultimately, so to speak, managing the expectations of a pandemic conclusion is a postponement exercise, to face day to day life without losing sight of the big things that could improve. Remember the lost. Get into the details, without losing the larger plot. Create meaning. Much, you might say, like a movie.
Well, then leave you, with two quotes spoken half a century apart by two very different writers.
The first is from the little narrator of When the Pandemic Ends, a 2020 children’s book by Iesha Mason: I’ll be so happy once we’re out of this crisis, she says.
The second comes from science fiction writer Frank Herbert: There is no real ending, he says. This is just the place where you end the story.
What, for the sake of our story on endings, is here. Even as the story of pandemics continues.
Ted Anthony, Director of Digital Innovation at Associated Press, has been writing about American culture since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted