COVID-19 One Year Later: Memory Lane

Road through pandemic paved with memories lost and memories made.

Spring-Ford girls basketball players walk through the hall during a socially-distanced pep rally.

Jamie Ford, Managing Editor

The Coronavirus was an ominous, far-off entity a year ago.

Even us, situated in the midst of one of the hardest-hit and first-to-act counties in the state, probably saw it as a threat to China, or maybe Italy, or maybe France, where cases grew rapidly.

Never us. It was never a threat to our impenetrable bubble of livelihood.

“They’ll do a deep clean over the weekend,” some predicted, “and we’ll be back in on Monday.”

How wrong we were.

This intangible power called COVID-19 slowly seeped into Montgomery County while we turned a blind eye and shielded the other those late days of February and early March of 2020.

The Montgomery County Intermediate Unit cancelled the annual Reading Olympics Competition on March 12 of last year when the County Commissioners signed a Declaration of Disaster Emergency. Acting on “an abundance of caution … during this unusual and uncommon occurrence,” they revealed a small leak in our impenetrable bubble of livelihood.

Either we patched the hole then with bated breath, or the dam would surely burst.

The latter ensued, because then neighboring schools shut down. Then the cases were acquaintances; not quite friends, and not quite familiar, but much closer than those featured on the national news.

Then they were friends. Then they were family. Then this became real.

A whirlwind of uncertainty and panic amassed a little over a year ago on March 12 when Montgomery County shut down schools. A day later, Gov. Tom Wolf shut down schools over the rest of the state.

Some loved ones fell ill, and the government met a wall of pandemonium as they witnessed social and economic collapse across the country. This once-distant force, COVID-19, managed to infiltrate our impenetrable bubble of livelihood.

Spring-Ford was, unfortunately, not immune to this once-in-a-generation pandemic.

Sports meets and games were torn from schedules, then prom, then the typical Spring-Ford graduation ceremony.

“It was sad,” said graduate Sierra Jackson. “To not have any closure, that was rough.”

The Class of 2020 displayed incredible resilience as Spring-Ford – and the rest of the state – learned virtually for the remainder of the school year.

A difficult aspect of that reality was the uncertainty felt by the whole world during this time.

“You get really excited for your first prom,” remembers current senior Becky Valente. “We were lucky because we had the chance at another prom senior year.
“What was worse wasn’t that it was cancelled, but that we got so hyped and then let down so many times. It was difficult not knowing what was going to be happening the rest of the year.”

Current junior Delaney Malloy agreed that the uncertainty during the ongoing shutdown was the most brutal and emotionally exhausting circumstance.

“You think we’re back in two weeks and a day, and oh, no, it’s a bit longer,” Malloy said. “Then longer, and then it’s till Spring Break. And then indefinitely. And then indefinitely, but somehow longer even then. One by one, we just kinda lost hope. Cancelling for the rest of the school year wasn’t a huge surprise. I just wish we’d known sooner. It would have saved some disappointment.”

The missed events, the lost dances, the graduation-that-won’t-be; it’s heart-wrenching to look back at what students missed out on. A school career without keystone events is a school career in collapse.

To buttress this claim, but a view that’s less discussed, is the everyday. The draining everyday monotony; the loss of the meaning of the date; the sudden relatability to Bill Murray’s Phil in “Groundhog Day.” The remainders of school assignments were due by 11:59, urging and coaxing procrastination. The Amazon Prime truck became our regular dose of serotonin. Botched loaves of banana bread; broken promises of bilinguality, or of getting in shape, or of a deep clean. Every day was yesterday and tomorrow and today.

It’s important to highlight how our highs became lows and how our mountains became valleys and how our celebratory triumphs fizzled into insipid anticlimaxes. But really, in a year that wasn’t a year, a focus on the everyday is equally important but never equally represented.

A snapshot of one day tinged with the confusion, and repetition, and skewed sense of reality we experienced in socially-distanced unity will be priceless in 50 years. One snapshot will serve as an orientation to the situation of that time period. This is something historians battle to capture and interpret, something that we will look back on with nostalgia and conquest, and something that serves as a reminder that our impenetrable bubble of livelihood will survive.

After a few months that were centuries but also blurred days, June came. Slowly, but surely, our hopes crept upwards and downwards. Shape- any shape- was welcome and celebrated. Mandatory learning after a months-long absence would, theoretically, be dreaded. What ensued was instead celebration for some sense of normalcy.

“I’ve never wanted to go back (before),” junior Matt Ricca said. “There’s never been a time where, after a snow day or a break or summer vacation or anything like that, where I’ve wanted to walk back into school. Even online, though, I’ll take that. You have to start waking up early, but at least there’s a reason to get up and ready and everything. I don’t know how much more asynchronous I could have done.”

Forcing students together for synchronous learning fostered a lenient and flexible environment that still held some semblance of structure. It was the best call the district and the government could have made and was the premier grasp we had on the slippery sides of the hole the pandemic forced us into. As tumultuous as the decline into isolation had been, our crawl out of that hole paralleled. Once the social blockade of school was dislodged, abundant stabs at normalcy followed from every direction.

There was a musical. There were sports. There were classes. There were clubs. There were school-sponsored activities. These were not and are not conventional, but in this year, nothing is.

They join the growing accumulation of social events altered by COVID, but few affairs internationally remain unclaimed by that category. The masks, the social distancing, the extra precautions, the limited capacities still don’t cancel out the victory we’ve achieved at managing to reinstitute annual traditions and events. There are even some educational benefits reaped from the circumstances of the pandemic which will continue to be implemented out of convenience rather than necessity.

The student government, for instance, formed committees to facilitate their meetings and productivity.

“Students are more comfortable talking in smaller groups,” said Stacey Bogus, Student Council advisor. “It alleviates the pressure and anxiety that comes with the changing dynamic.”

The continuum of this change in the social dynamic seems parabolic; we have surpassed the lowest lows of callous isolation that humans are not built to sustain. We continue to climb to a sense of normalcy as intangibly hopeful as the pandemic was originally intangibly ominous. While we will never reach perfect equation with the social constructs pre-pandemic, this is partially for societal benefit and propulsion.

Our impenetrable bubble of livelihood is stronger, more equipped, and more tightly knit than February of 2020.

We now know what we can withstand.