As summer wanes and schools begin ramping up in various ways, much of the uncertainty that has surrounded the past few months has not magically gone away. The COVID-19 virus that has caused so much disruption continues to be present. That much is certain, and all the while, “What comes next?” remains a regular, if not daily, question for us all.
For example, we cannot say for sure how something like returning to in-person schooling will go this fall. We do not know if and when a viable vaccine will be made available. We are not sure if or how long it will take the economy to bounce back or whether people who are facing eviction, food insecurity, and other hardships will get the aid and assistance they need. We do not know with 100% certainty that we and our loved ones will remain safe in the days ahead.
While we can and ought to be mitigating the real effects of this pandemic with sound and just social policies and wise and responsible personal behavior, the reality is that certainty was never ours to have to begin with in the first place. Not being in control or knowing what the future holds is a reality of being human that is as inescapable as old age, achy joints, and wrinkles. Still, that is no reason to give in to either the uncertainty or false-certainties that only hide us from reality.
Not knowing what comes next can be frightening. Uncertainty can expose our vulnerabilities. Despair can make us susceptible to easy answers and candy-coated appeasements. Sometimes just believing something, even if we know it is incomplete or even incorrect, can be soothing and affirming, at least for a time. However, as is always true, reality, like a virus, will always come roaring back.
As we move towards the fall, the reality is that much of the uncertainty that we have all lived with since mid-March is not going to go away. We can say that it is safe to return to indoor, in-person gatherings. We can return to the way things were and the way we all want them to be, as if the virus were no longer lingering. We can say all this with certainty in our minds, but it would all be an illusion, because the COVID-19 virus is still actively seeking hosts in real time. In real, everyday interactions, the virus is not discriminating between age, race, sex, or level of income. The virus will thrive in crowded, indoor settings where potential hosts are recycling the same air. The virus will not play by our rules or according to our schedule. As Eli Saslow, the superintendent of a small school district in Arizona who wrote about losing a teacher to COVID in an op-ed in the Washington Post, put it, “If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy.”
What comes next?
No one can say for sure other than the fact that the virus will still be free and roaming. Nevertheless, what we all now accept, adhere, and adjust to will have a great impact on just how the future will unfold for everyone. That is why it is so important that we wear our masks, follow sound public health guidelines, and remember that what each one of us does now in real time will have real consequences for the whole community.