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Voices / Essay

Three years later, moving forward gently

‘I’m not feeling functionally traumatized about Covid. But I am feeling a deep well of sadness that I didn’t realize was still there’

Amanda Witman, an administrative consultant, helps run the Vermont Everyone Eats program, locally and at the state level.


Three years ago — March 10, 2020 — I sent my girls off to their dad’s, knowing it would likely be the last easygoing, normal visit they would have with him for a while.

I was right.

The next day, I made the rounds: co-op, grocery stores, other errands. The town was out doing the same, almost as if we were expecting a major blizzard.

Stock up on the basics. Toilet paper, bleach, hand sanitizer. Rice, beans, eggs. Cocoa, baking supplies, comfort foods. Whatever you can think of. Who knows; maybe we’ll be stuck at home for a whole week or two. Get some marshmallows for the cocoa, just in case.

Saturday, March 14, 2020. Waiting in line at the very crowded co-op, surrounded by people who were no doubt “stocking up” just like me, I was struck by the din of the background noise, the loud hum of people’s voices and the bustle of their movements. Something led me to press record on the voice memos app on my phone. Capture that sound; it might be a while before we hear it again.

And it was.

I was reminded of this moment today. I had mentioned it to someone a year ago, and he asked if I would share the sound file with him. I had forgotten about it, but there it was, still on my phone. It brought me right back to that moment, on the cusp of Covid lockdown, none of us having any idea what was to come.

Sunday, March 15, 2020. My kids came home from their dad’s that night. I reluctantly informed them that they would not be going to classes (or anywhere else) on Monday morning.

“OK, fine; we’re not happy about it,” they said, “but we’ll stay home if we have to.”

And then Tuesday morning rolled around, and I got some angry pushback from my youngest.

“We stayed home all day yesterday already! I want to see my friends!”

Sorry, kid. The governor has ordered everyone to stay home. Let’s pretend it’s a snow day, make some cocoa, quarantine the mail, watch a movie, try to make the best of it....

* * *

Today, it hit me just how much grief I’ve buried from those times. To survive it, we had to normalize it to a great extent. I’m not feeling functionally traumatized. But I am feeling a deep well of sadness that I didn’t realize was still there.

For the past 2.5 years, I’ve focused on helping others through a couple of pandemic-funding-driven programs, including Vermont Everyone Eats, which is ending on March 31, at the same time as several other programs that have collectively offered a lifeline to tens of thousands of Vermonters. The cliff they (and, by extension, we) are facing is steep and unforgiving.

It felt good to help people; it gave me purpose, a sense of utility, and hope.

But now I feel like I’m back where I was three years ago, without a clue how we will collectively move forward from this moment.

Faith is not so hard to call on once, but it can be challenging to call on it again and again and again and again and again.

The federal state of emergency has already been declared “over” as of May 11. For some, it’s very easy to forget about the pandemic. For others, it still impacts everyday life.

Processing and living with the aftermath of collective trauma takes a very long time. It will be decades before we can comprehensively understand and interpret how this experience has shaped us as a society, as communities, as individuals.

I hope we will continue to be kind to our neighbors. I hope we will continue to find innovative ways to help each other out, through the ordinary hard times as well as the extraordinary ones.

* * *

What strange times we have lived through! What strange times we continue to live through! I want to acknowledge this unusual three-year anniversary, and remind myself — and all of us — that anniversaries can and often do bring up unexpected echoes of sadness and grief.

For me, gratitude feels like a partial antidote; the passing of time, another. Sometimes I need some extra sleep and a walk in the woods and a chance to sing with a friend (or, truth be told, a crowd). Sometimes I need some extra-long hugs or a fun social event that feels “safe” by my personal definition, even when that definition is a moving target.

Surely, I can’t be the only one who still wears a mask in the grocery store (but not in my favorite café)? Surely, I can’t be the only one who continues to order toilet paper in bulk? Surely, I can’t be the only one who continues to marvel when I get to meet someone “in 3D” that I’ve only ever known on Zoom?

Let’s not be afraid to talk about what we’ve been through and how it has shaped us. I’m feeling it this weekend. Be gentle with yourself if you are feeling it, too. We are still in this together.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #706 (Wednesday, March 15, 2023). This story appeared on page B1.

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