Has COVID-19 Changed the World for You?

Currently, the virus is spreading rapidly in the United States, while Italy, Spain and other countries are dealing with the ravages the widespread infection continues to wreak. At age 83, I see this pandemic as another in a series of misfortunes that befalls mankind periodically. Of course this statement ignores the horrors of warfare present in various parts of the world, and the local droughts, locusts, and political misrules. For many young people the magnitude and portents of this pandemic are beyond anything they have heretofore experienced.Four years ago I read an article by a person whose “world changed” at a young age by the event of “9/11” in New York City. My reading of her well-written memoir initiated a memory search for that moment in my life when the perception of the world may have changed — that is, to have shaken me loose from the unexamined feelings of comfort and safety that childhood, for some, allows.

After pondering, I found that my awakening was gradual, with punctuated moments of fear, despair, horror and, in the case of “9/11,” anger.

I was one month away from becoming age five when the Japanese Air Force bombed Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. I don’t have a memory of the actual day of the invasion. What I have is the memory, subsequently developed, of all the pictures and commentary since that time. It didn’t affect me at age five — this was just the way the world was.

Uncle Harry was a block warden for the times when ‘blackouts’ were called by the civil defense organization. He was to assure that we and the neighbors had pulled down their blackout curtains and shades so that no light could be seen by possible invaders from off the coast of San Francisco. These were the times the whole family, seven of us would gather by candlelight in the living room to listen to news on the radio, or to music on the big Victrola. I imagined Japanese planes and submarines searching, searching, but finding nothing because we were so good at hiding. It wasn’t scary.

Then the war was over, and I was eight years old. My dad got a job in Manhattan with his cousin, a printer, and found a railroad flat in Brooklyn for us, a few blocks from the docks. Mom, sister Diane, and I followed later to arrive by train on New Year’s Day, 1946. I learned to live with fear and uncertainty in this neighborhood, more and more as I grew toward adolescence. I never knew when one of several local bullies would decide to beat me up.

When I got to junior high school, we learned how to act when the sirens went off, signaling a nuclear bomb attack from the Soviet Union. These felt weird, and I always felt that such preparations were useless because everything would be wiped out anyway.

Toward the end of the 1940s, many people from Puerto Rico started arriving in New York’s boroughs, including Brooklyn. One summer day a car full of Puerto Rican immigrants was circling around 48th Street, looking for a destination, the occupants unfamiliar with the neighborhood. They had interrupted the stickball game of the older guys too many times, so they stopped the car, bounced on it, rolled it, and beat up the guys in the car, using pipes and other things as clubs. I ran away to our tenement up the street, feeling as if I had been beaten up.

Soon after this we moved back to San Francisco and, later, to Berkeley. We felt safe again.

Until, ten years later, October, 1962. This is when the world changed for me: the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was living in Berkeley, attending the University. I often awoke, sweating, having dreamed a nuke had exploded over the whole Bay Area.

Source: theedge.com.hk

Then, in 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and began a horrible period of uncertainty and anger and disbelief in the authorities which the ‘Warren Commission’ could not quite damp down.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, then Senator Robert Kennedy was gunned down within months of each other in 1968. I didn’t care that much for the Kennedy brothers or family, but upon “Bobby’s” death I felt America was coming apart.

Then came the horrors of the Vietnam War, in which I was too old to directly participate, but I saw and felt the havoc it wrought on the young people and their elders.

I was present, in 1964–1965, at the ‘Free Speech Movement’ on the Berkeley campus, which began as a righteous protest and devolved into a battle between well-organized radicals and the State. It was warfare on campus and, in my mind, began the destruction of universities everywhere in the USA.

Time passes, wounds are layered over while one continues to do what humans tend to do, make families, go to work to support them, try to enjoy life occasionally. The horrors are buried, then… 9/11.

And now, COVID-19.

What will be the new or revised vision of the world young people will carry with them into the future, of those who survive? And, how will their new vision cause them to shape the world for succeeding generations?

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
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6 Responses to Has COVID-19 Changed the World for You?

  1. Vasil Georgiev says:

    Ron, Thank you for your historical reminiscences at the background of COVID-19. Very well described! Thank you also, for all printed materials you have sent me through Jeanette!The Jeanette’s Michael Pollan’s book is OK. Yours is at Jeanette’s office. You can communicate with her to get it. I’m OK with my constrained self isolation because of COVID-19. Do hope to stand.How about you? Best Vasil


    • Ron Pavellas says:

      Thanks, as always, Vasil, for your attentions to my writing. I will contact Jeanette next week. I was let loose today to shop at ICA in Alvik, a special one-hour opening for people over 70, beginning 6AM. They offered thin rubber gloves at the entrance, which I used. I was in and out within 10 minutes, being one the three who waited for the store to open. There were no more than ten when I left. It gave me a chance to walk from home to Alvik and back on a clear, beautiful, and not TOO cold morning.


  2. Wonderful recollections. Even in England and even though only 7 or 8 at the time, I remember being shocked at Kennedy’s assassination. As for 9/11 I had been walking n the mountains (I was living in Switzerland) and could not believe the horror I say on the TV when I got back. The current situations feels like the end of the world, as if the aliens have invaded. Although of course it is not and they have not. I meditated in the garden this afternoon in the cold spring sunshine wrapped in coats and rugs. I keep getting breakthroughs recently and over the past couple of days in particular. Something about the universal terror around us seems to have focused me more than usually on my interior landscape and a determination to try and live “better”.


    • Ron Pavellas says:

      Thanks for your response and thoughts. I read somewhere that, as usual in a time of fear and uncertainty, many people are turning or returning to religion, however this may be defined. I grok “interior landscape,” because that’s where the (give your own name/letters to it) resides–and within all sentient entities (also, however defined).


  3. I had severe depression for most of my life. It has permanently muted my emotional response to most things. And that is combined with a depressive realism where I expect the worst. The 9/11 terrorist attack had little emotional impact on me. And neither has this COVID-19 pandemic. In each case, I felt a lack of surprise or even a sense of relief. I remember thinking about 9/11 that something like it was inevitable.

    I feel the same way now. Everything else gets to live in the world my mind normally operates in. But there is a difference this time. Because of change in diet, my depression has gone away. Yet I still don’t have strong emotional responses to such things as this. It’s not a lack of empathy, quite the opposite. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I have a very accepting attitude about the world, including mass suffering. I’ve always been sensitive to the suffering of others.

    The only difference now is the pundits and politicians are paying attention to the suffering I felt incapable of ignoring. A friend of mine shares my attitude in that she felt relief with these developments. She saw the fractures in society but it made her feel schizoid because the rest of humanity acted like everything was normal and the status quo would continue. Finally, personal reality matches collective reality. Global tragedy has put us all on the same page.

    The closest I’ve come to an event that felt like a permanent change was when George W. Bush stole the 2000 election. I didn’t have much faith in democracy before that. But it made clear that the US is a banana republic. At that time, it did contribute to my depression and made me cynical. I no longer feel as cynical, though. I’ve processed those feelings. I no longer expect democracy and so feel less disappointed by its lack. The irritation has subsided in coming to terms with the kind of society I’m in.

    I’m simply waiting for events to play out. I’ve known these kinds of changes and catastrophes were coming. It has often made me feel almost impatient, in simply wanting it to happen so that we would collectively be forced to face reality. So, here we are. Reality has arrived. More reality will be on its way. Brace yourself. This pandemic is small time stuff in the scheme of things. If this creates mass panic, imagine what it’s going to be like when climate change catastrophes come and probably trigger WWIII.

    Amidst all the craziness, on a personal level, my life feels the same. Nothing about my daily habits have changed. I’m not one of those people who have lost their jobs nor has anyone I know. Even though I’m in the COVID-19 epicenter of Iowa, my life pretty much goes on as before. I read and write. I’m in the middle of some vacation time right now, but that was planned long ago. Right now, I’m staying with my parents at the edge of town. I go outside for walks and jobs. I keep myself preoccupied with my typical activities. The world goes on.

    I feel like an outside observer. I understand what is going on. And I realize it will get worse. Quite likely, the impact of it might become personal. I suspect most of us will know someone who died from this before its over. I hope my loved ones remain safe. But there isn’t much I can do about it. As an introvert, social distancing is a natural habit. Beyond that, I don’t see much point in worrying about it. Besides, my curiosity about the world and fascination with humanity remains strong.

    Maybe my attitude is more common with my generation, as a GenXer. We are known as a cynical lot or many of us think of as realism. Growing up as a kid in the 80s, we were inundated by horrific and depressing movies about Vietnam War and post-apocalypse, not to mention evil, demonic, and possessed children. The 80s was the height of lead toxicity, homicides, war on drugs, mass incarceration, etc. Unlike many in the older generations such as my parents, people I’ve known in my age group tend to see the world as getting worse, a worldview we’ve held for our entire lives.

    GenXers, as a general rule, have expected to have it worse than their parents and grandparents. We are simply living in the world of dark outcomes that was promised in the media we were suckled on. This cynicism may not be a helpful attitude, but it’s a way of managing one’s experience in a sad and worsening world. According to Strauss and Howe’s generational model, GenXers grew up in the Unraveling and reach middle age in the Crisis. The same generational pattern has repeated before. GenXers are a new version of the Lost Generation that fought WWI.

    That always makes me wonder about the younger generations. They seem much more upbeat, in spite of getting such a raw deal. This pandemic, far more than the 2008 recession, will leave a permanent mark on them. It will force them to grow up more quickly, in realizing it’s a dangerous world and the government has failed. Going back to generational theory, that will push them to tackle the hard problems and rebuild society. My sense is that this theory has great predictive power. After the Crisis period, we will be moving into a new era. But the older generations won’t likely live long enough to see it.


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