March 11 washed over me like any other day. I did my silly little tasks: clock in at my internship and procrastinate any real writing, attend about four hours of Zoom meetings, go to the gym and cry about hating my body, and come home and cry about hating the things that comprise the pandemic–proofed version of my life. An endless stream of deadlines. Financial insecurity. Social isolation. The end of choice.
On March 11, 2020, Philadelphia shut down to curb the spread of what was then the novel coronavirus, an unknown respiratory virus that was wreaking havoc on metropolises. On March 11, 2020, Penn ordered us home for the same reason, sending many of us back in time to high school bedrooms we were happy to escape. On March 11, 2020, a lot of parents died, and even more people began to lose their jobs.
It’s a day that will pass with national markers of reverence in the future. But last week, I was too busy mourning personal bullshit to acknowledge that someone might have it tougher than me.
In a weird way, living during the COVID-19 pandemic has made us more selfish. We can all point to the examples of greed that exist beyond us. It’s Tana Mongeau attending 14 Hollywood ragers as Los Angeles city hospitals hover at maximum occupancy. It’s Camden County’s Atilis Gym reopening in secret as COVID–19 restrictions caused nearly a third of other New Jersey small businesses to shutter. It’s our classmates flying to Puerto Rico over Spring Stay to party on an island with crumbling infrastructure and our friends cutting Black Philadelphians in line to receive a vaccine. The challenge of collective austerity has created failures so public that it’s easy to ignore our own.
So, what about the selfishness that exists inside us? COVID–19 has forced everyone to become a little too introspective. For the better part of a year, the world has been confined to walls of apartments or parents' houses. All that government–imposed 'me time' has made it easy to hyperbolize our own struggles and—even worse—write off the trauma of others as something we don’t need to worry about. We’ve all been so busy supporting ourselves through a pile of uncertainties that the emotional labor we reserve for others comes at a high premium.
These choices seem small. Do I watch CNN for an hour and learn about Biden’s new child detention centers, or turn off my phone and take a long bath? Sure, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of self care, but it has also desensitized us. Perhaps that’s why March 11 felt like any other Thursday and not the anniversary of something terrible.