Woog's World: Lessons learned in a year of COVID

Ta-da!

We’ve made it. One year ago this week, COVID crashed into our lives. The world, including the often-invincible bubble of Westport, has never been the same.

The pandemic has been a crucible for all of us. We’ve witnessed things we never imagined we’d see. We realized that wealth, power and prestige are no protection against an invisible, uncaring virus. We discovered a lot about ourselves, our community, and the way we live our lives.

So what did we learn?

We learned that essential workers really are essential. The guy who stocks shelves with toilet paper and Lysol, the woman behind the pharmacy counter, the kid delivering pizza and Peapod, the countless faceless folks making the supply chain run — without them, we’d be in far worse shape than we are.

Westporters have always respected medical professionals — the ones wearing white coats, anyway — but now we have even greater respect for the people who do the dirty work: swabbing noses, administering vaccines, cleaning hospitals.

Compared to our own cushy jobs, which before 2020 we considered both impressive and important, the men and women whose labor powers our country truly deserve to say they “work.”

We learned that everyone has their own comfort level. Some Westporters have not left home in a year. Some take vacations whenever and wherever they can. Some will not set foot in a restaurant, even outdoors; others take off their mask as soon as they sit down inside. Some allow no one else in their house; others host giant parties for their kids’ friends.

We learned that education is not one-size-fits-all. Distance learning and hybrid schooling is tough. Teachers had to learn new technology, and figure out how to engage students both in person and at home. Youngsters spent all day in front of screens, missing the human connection so crucial to discovery and growth.

But as tough as it was for many children, some thrived. They slept later. They learned at their own pace. They did not race from class to class. The social pressures that consume so much of a school day vanished.

Even Staples High School’s graduation — a car parade through the main parking lot — turned into a hit. No one missed sitting in the stuffy fieldhouse.

The coronavirus changed education forever. We’re not yet sure how, but our schools will never again be the same.

We learned that science is important and that science changes. We don’t see many people washing their food now, or leaving deliveries outside for 48 hours. We’re not washing our hands as much as we once did. But we do see almost universal mask wearing in Westport, from little kids to centenarians. We also see more double-masking every day.

In a year when we had few clear answers, we relied on experts to tell us what to do and how to do it. They told us what they know, and trusted us to follow. In this part of the country, we’ve done that. We’re in pretty good shape because of it.

We learned that change is hard, but change is good. We gave up spending hours a day on Metro-North or I-95 — a luxury, of course, many Americans can’t afford — and the time we spent reconnecting with family members and exploring our community has been invigorating.

The Westport Library, just months into its proud new post-renovation incarnation, pivoted to online programming. It was not easy. But they realized they have access to presenters they’d never be able to afford. And their offerings reach a worldwide audience.

The Levitt Pavilion was dark, but a committed group of Westporters created a Remarkable Theater. The pop-up venue in a downtown parking lot provided entertainment in a new, old way. We parked socially distanced cars. We brought our own food. We honked instead of applauded. We had a great time.

We changed many old habits. The longer this lasts, the more chance at least some of those changes become permanent.

There was one more important lesson this year. We learned we are more resilient than we realize.

Teenagers who could not be bothered to take out the trash suddenly began shopping for elderly and homebound neighbors. Parents became partners with their children’s education, helping them figure out the new way of school together. Isolated inside, we tackled new hobbies: bread making, language learning, painting. We met our neighbors outside. We took the money we did not spend on clothes or travel, and gave it to those in genuine need. We coped, we persevered, we adapted, we grew.

None of us would have wished the past year on anyone. But we had no choice. The virus came. As microscopic as it is, it taught us huge lessons about who we are. It is a tragedy that destroyed and killed countless lives. But, to our surprise and awe, it also taught us much about how we live.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.