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This Covid year, through your eyes.

Good afternoon. 

Mary Duan here. Over the past 367 days (that’s one leap year, plus a day, since the county’s shelter-in-place order came down), I’ve gotten used to sitting with a certain kind of sadness and a certain kind of stress. First there was waiting—it should only be a few weeks, err, make that a few months, of staying away from each other and masking up, right? Then there was planning—when all of this is over, I’m booking a trip to a tropical beach! And then there was more waiting—for a government plan, for a vaccine, for that vaccine to become widely accessible. And throughout it all, there was worry—that someone I love would get Covid-19, that they would get seriously ill, that there was nothing that could be done for them if it happened. People I love did get Covid-19, but fortunately they didn’t get seriously ill. I wish everyone could say the same.

But as outlined in this week’s cover story, which serves as a memorial to just a fraction of Monterey County residents who died of Covid or an underlying condition exacerbated by Covid, not everyone can. In addition to telling the stories of some of those who have died and the people they left behind, we asked you, our gentle readers, to send us your thoughts on what you have learned in this past pandemic year. We received a few dozen answers. 

What follows are excerpts from some of those submissions.

Liz Erdelyi writes about what’s become a weird new normal: “It’s been a year of transformation, personally and professionally…I ended a bad relationship, learned how to teach special education students remotely and have struggled to manage anxiety and stress like many others.”

“Our lives have changed,” Erdelyi adds, “but maybe for the better. I hope we’ve all become more aware of others, our effect on the world around us, and how we can and should all slow down and do better. I know I have. I appreciate the little things even more than I did before Covid.”

From Staci Alziebler-Perkins, executive director of Gathering for Women, which stayed open for the whole of the pandemic because unhoused women needed somewhere to shelter in place: “Faced with empty shelves at the supermarket and lack of supplies at the Food Bank on top of canceled events, we wondered how long we could survive.” Thanks to community support, they stayed open, joined with Community Human Services to open a housing-first shelter for single women and families with children, and managed to permanently house some guests. “I learned how strong and resilient our staff is and how wonderful our community is in a time of crisis.”

Big Sur resident Tara Evans writes in about a “little peculiar, fairly insignificant item” that stands out: She no longer carries a purse or backpack when she’s out, and puts keys, phone, license and a credit card in her pockets. “It’s been a very freeing experience!” (Same, Tara, same: Now what do I do with all those swell bags I’ve collected and no longer need?)

Judy Dow writes about a phrase she first heard of on NPR—“loose ties,” and how the pandemic has ended casual conversations and unexpected chats with strangers and acquaintances alike: “It’s the fun of coming home to ask my husband, ‘Guess who I ran into?’ It’s the goodbye hug after an indoor lunch with a friend. Those opportunities for ‘loose ties’ enrich. Come back safely and soon!”

For Dough Thurston, race director of the Big Sur Marathon Foundation, the loss of three races he helps organize—the marathon, Run in the Name of Love and the Monterey Bay Half Marathon—has meant the loss of more than $400,000 those races funnel on to local nonprofits. “People may think races are just a bunch of folks running down the road. They are much more. We look forward to safely holding our events again, hopefully in 2022.”

Art teacher Diane Grindol, who teaches through the Pacific Grove Adult School, says the pandemic set her quickly learning some new skills, including using Zoom, to teach a mostly senior population remotely. “It is actually easier for my mostly senior students to see and hear my art demos online. The evening class loves strolling over to their armchair or kitchen table for class instead of driving in the dark…class was important to my students; the sociality and structure and skill building were important to all of us in getting through difficult times.”

Denise Green writes that with no local family, most of her past year (outside of her job as an education administrator) has been spent focusing on her two children, one of whom was born mid-pandemic. “Watching both children grow and develop over the past year has highlighted and affirmed to me the critical role parents play in early learning and education. I have learned to be flexible, to be empathetic, and to prioritize family.”

Peter Hiller, curator of the Jo Mora Trust, writes that he’s been taking indoor photos and decorating the fence outside his house “for the amusement of the neighborhood” over the past year, and plans on making a keepsake book for the family. (He included photos—of hidden eggs on Easter, of a moodily lit orchid, of a “congratulations” sign hung for the class of 2020, a thanks to postal workers, and thanks to essential workers for Labor Day.)

Gary Bolen, actor and director, points out the good and the bad in his message: On the good side, he’s lost 12 pounds, saved money and supported local organic food suppliers, because he and his wife haven’t eaten out much. He used his stimulus check to assist a fellow performing artist whose day job vanished the day of the lockdown and who was struggling due to a messed up situation with the state EDD. On the bad side, three deaths occurred either in his immediate family or among close friends, and those groups haven’t been able to gather and mourn in a traditional way. Nor has he been able to celebrate the three births that occurred over the past year among family and friends. He’s also learned, he says, how much he misses performing and directing—and that he’s open to any offers to do either, retirement be damned.

Anna Foglia, CEO of substance-abuse treatment nonprofit Sun Street Centers, says the pandemic has taught what the word “essential” means. “We faced our fear and recommitted our lives to our passion—recovery services. We have lost many dear friends with long-term sobriety to the isolation of sheltering in place. Young people have joined the ranks of substance abusers, some have not survived…we realize that human connection is essential for our health and well-being.”

Jason Warburg’s essay “Everything is Heavier Right Now,” which he wrote last summer and published to his blog, was featured in this very newsletter last year. It’s more than worth revisiting. 

As he puts it, it’s not the wait, it’s the weight of what we’re all living through. 

And last but by no means least, Sybil Chapple submitted a long essay about her quest to join her husband, who is a Canadian citizen and was in the middle of seeking U.S. citizenship, while pregnant in the midst of the pandemic. While he was able to join her for the birth of their child, she spent March to August by herself with two elementary age children while working her job in agriculture sales. “It was one of the most trying times of my adult life,” she writes. “I would be remiss if I did not mention that there were a lot of tears involved.”

There’s connection in sharing these stories—we feel it and we hope you do too. Thanks to everyone who answered our call.

-Mary Duan, managing editor, 

P.S. Thanks for reading, and for sharing your stories with us. Also a big thanks to those of you who have joined us as Weekly Insiders. We appreciate your support. And if you haven’t joined, please consider becoming a Weekly Insider today.

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