Two unforgettable — and deeply forgettable — years ago this week, the world turned inside out and upside down. That week, everyone was sent home from work due to a mysterious, ravenous, globe-trotting virus. A scourge that none of us, other than epidemiologists and historians (and I suppose the very pessimistic), could have imagined being possible.

It was the kind of Outbreak™ I had only known about from Morgan Freeman and Dustin Hoffman. It was the kind of Contagion™ I was only aware of through the pioneering work of Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard. It was the kind of, um, World War Z… well, you get the point.

In other words, it was the sort of large-scale nightmare that always makes people say “It’s like something out of a movie.” An event that makes you realize that those movies are based in actual, non-Hollywood, worst-case scenarios.

And in the context of the modern era, it would be hard to imagine a worse worst-case scenario than Covid. It has proven to be the most deadly pandemic in almost exactly one century, cruelly snatching over 6,000,000 lives (nearly 1,000,000 of those in the United States) and in many ways reshaping life on planet Earth.

The pandemic has been so momentous, shattering, that people talk nostalgically about 2019 as “the before time.” Almost like we have a new B.C./A.D. demarcation. A new “year zero” of sorts.

Even as I write that, I am aware that some will consider it wild hyperbole, while others resonate with this way of framing it. And that stark divergence of sentiment, that polarization, is something I’ve been grappling with since the 3rd or 4th month of the pandemic. Ever since this whole ordeal got politicized. Ever since the national Covid narrative diverged like Frost’s two roads in a wood.

We could have been a unified front. We could have experience something akin to the collective national sentiment (and sacrifice) that prevailed during World War II. Strong, clear leadership on day one could have inspired this collective response to the virus, despite our perennial partisan divides.

But instead, what half of our country experienced in the last 2 years was starkly different from what the other half of our country experienced. We as fellow Americans have had entirely different voices echoing through our echo chambers. As a result, we have not lived through the same pandemic.

It’s difficult for me to understand, but there are millions for whom Covid was always an exaggerated threat. A media-manufactured exercise in fear and government control. Just another flu-like virus which should have never warranted extended quarantine, or remote work, or urgent vaccine drives, or even masks.

Because of this, there are many Americans who didn’t significantly modify their day-to-day lives, unless required to do so. Even as Covid patients filled (and overfilled) the ICUs. Even as Covid deaths hit 6 figures, then doubled and tripled and quadrupled. Even as that number came within shouting distance of the truly ghastly one-million mark, an amount of virus-caused deaths that would have been unthinkable to us at any point since the pandemic of 1918. An unimaginable amount of lost hopes, lost dreams, lost life.

Covid has deeply traumatized medical workers, teachers, retail workers, and everyone who has had direct exposure to either death or the acute risk of their own health. Medical workers and teachers in particular all deserve free PTSD counseling, a doubled income, and warm hugs of solidarity from everyone they know. I can’t begin to imagine what the last 2 years have been like for them.

But on a smaller scale, Covid has traumatized all of us who gazed directly at it and acknowledged its sheer horror. Like millions of others, I carry in my bones — my ordinary-person, not-front-line-anything bones — the terror of seeing the world laid bare. Of being scared for my family. Of trying to protect my vulnerable, 70-something parents from risk. Of trying to protect my kids, including my as-yet-unvaccinated 3-year-old daughter, from risk. Of watching the news in horror, for months on end, for years on end, as the stench of death permeated the landscape.

On some level, I truly envy those who don’t feel similarly shell-shocked. Those who never agreed that this was a quarantine-worthy event. Those who believed the mainstream media was overplaying the severity of Covid, because their stream of the media fed them a far less ominous narrative about the virus.

I would love to not feel notably different than I did in 2019. I would love to have never upended my family’s natural rhythms, our comings and goings. I would love to have never had my darkest parental (and human) fears laid bare by a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Many people will understand implicitly what I mean. But others will shake their heads that I’m a fearful pawn of the fearmongering media.

So what does it mean for us to diverge along these lines? What happens to a country when half of its residents experience an intense mental trauma while the other half doubt that any such trauma needs to exist? How do we all unify and move on after such a chasm-deep fracturing of our lived experience?

I’ll leave those questions unanswered since they linger unanswered in my mind.

What I know is this: Covid is not over. For one, because we could still see more spikes and more variants. But even if we are fortunate enough to be in the endemic last stage of the virus in the United States (and I hope and pray this proves to be the case), Covid is not truly over because we have not properly processed the experience of the last 2 years. We have not united and truly grieved as a nation.

With the eager help of bad-faith (and bad-science) pundits and social-media demagogues, we have cracked ourselves in half, into two separate nations.

I don’t know how we merge back into one.

But if we are to heal from this trauma and move forward, we will have to find a way.

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