What I learned during the pandemic

Gray Hughes

It was 52 weeks ago this week that the words “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” graced the pages of this paper for the first time.

Since then, a lot has happened. I’ve written about the fallout a lot. We’ve talked about it together.

I’ve written about the negative implications, mostly — canceled school and events, panic buying and the economic impact in the spring and, more recently and on a personal level, the anxiety the pandemic has caused me. But what I haven’t addressed is the positive things to come out of this.

Yes, believe it or not there have been some positives that have come out of this pandemic — both on a societal level and my own personal level.

When it comes to how the pandemic has positively impacted our society, it’s pretty easy to see. We’re thinking more local now. Shop local, eat local, drink local, stay local, vacation local — you name it. If it’s local we have found a way to support it in some way, shape or form this year.

I think, now, we as a society are more focused on how we can help those immediately around us. I have never seen so many people focus on staying local than I have in the past year. I know I myself have tried to be local as much as possible, be it shopping local for things like Christmas presents or frequenting local restaurants rather than chain restaurants (locally owned restaurants are leaps and bounds better than chain restaurants, anyway).

But perhaps the best thing about the pandemic is what it has done to my life.

Yes, I know I’ve written about how the whole pandemic has made me anxious. I still wear a mask whenever I need to, I don’t like being around a lot of people and I’m still hesitant to travel. A couple a months ago, I wrote about how the pandemic forced me to confront these anxieties, and I’m a better person for it.

But this isn’t the only way the pandemic has forced me to better my life.

I’ve started taking my health and fitness seriously. I work out every day. In fact, it’s to the point where if I don’t my day feels incomplete. No, I’m not throwing big boy weight around in a weight room. No, I’m not running marathons. But what I am doing is things where I’m getting actual exercise. I’m doing tough workouts on a stationary bike. I’m doing pushups, sit-ups and basically anything else that ends in “ups.”

Because of this, I’m in the best physical shape in at least 10 years (last season playing lacrosse before tearing my ACL) or maybe even my whole life.

I mentioned that the pandemic, too, has forced me to be more local. I still haven’t left the Black Hills since 2019, but I’m not just sitting at home. I’m getting out and exploring the Black Hills — from its hiking trails to offroading trails. I know I have plenty more Hills to explore, but I feel like for the first time I’m really understanding them.

Finally, what the pandemic has forced me to do is be more in the moment and worry less about the things I cannot control. When the pandemic first hit, I was frustrated with the things I couldn’t do — mainly travel. While it’s true that it isn’t the easiest for me to travel back home to the East Coast, I focus less on that.

Yes, I cannot wait until I can head back home and have a crab feast out on the water or eat a cheesesteak at a Phillies game. I can’t wait to go to a big concert again and see friends and family in states where COVID-19 regulations, once again for better or for worse, are stricter than ours.

But I’ve learned that focusing on the things that I cannot control breeds aggravation. And, for the most part, I’ve pushed that all out of my head. Right now, I’m focused on the things I can control: work, grad school, the relationships that mean the most to me. I think this is crucial in life and is a sign of maturing: to worry less about the things that you cannot control and instead focus on the things you can control.

So, there you have it. Some of the positive things that have come out of the last year. I know that this past 52 weeks hasn’t been easy on anyone, but I really feel like we are getting close to the return of normal nationwide. Vaccines are being approved and distributed, cases are going down and fans are going to games again.

We just have to get through this last little bit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that we can do this.

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