If time is really relative and there are time travelers out there from the future thinking about where to visit, do not, I repeat, do not go back to 2020.
We just closed the door on that baby, and it was hard to get on with our lives. If you don’t believe me, just open the time capsules we leave behind. We’re preserving the artifacts of our lives so that people in the future can better understand who they are and what brought them to their moment.
I’ve been thinking about what I will put into my pandemic time capsule, which is a big cardboard box in my bedroom closet. Into it goes anything that I think is evocative of living through the pandemic.
Some of the things I put in the box are what you’d imagine: a roll of toilet paper, pictures of us and our friends in masks, a bottle of hand sanitizer, an envelope with several strands of hair, eight inches long and gray. I started keeping a pandemic diary over the summer, and I threw that into the cardboard capsule in August, when I was depressed by the numbers and didn’t feel like writing daily entries anymore.
I tossed into the box some of the newspaper front pages I saved: “CDC Details First U.S. Case of Novel Virus Spreading in China.” “FDA Grants Historic Authorization to a Covid-19 Vaccine.” “Winter Is Coming: Why America’s Window of Opportunity to Beat Back Covid-19 is Closing.”
We cannot be reliable memory keepers if we don’t include politics. The ferocity of the pandemic was fueled by President Trump and his people. They hid the truth from the American people, fudged the alarming numbers, silenced the scientists and failed to do what was necessary to get ahead of the surges. So, I would put into my box another front page, from The New York Times: “Biden Beats Trump.” The world changed in a moment.
I would also save my “screen use” statement from Verizon, indicating an average of 60 minutes a day pre-pandemic, and six hours a day as of last week.
I asked some friends and family what they would put in a pandemic time capsule. Photos of people in ICUs on ventilators, my sister said. My grandson suggested something with the Netflix logo, a friend suggested photos of her grandkids, with and without masks as the year progressed, and another friend suggested a can of tuna and a packet of yeast. Someone said she’d put an old paintbrush in the capsule, since it helped save her life. I’ll include the hard-copy calendar I keep with notations for Zoom meetings and virtual doctor’s appointments and copies of our living wills, executed as the pandemic surged.
I will include photographs — real, printed photographs — of the loving friends who died this year, some of Covid-19, some of other diseases. I have the receipt from some enterprising death company welcoming me to a “virtual shiva.”
I will toss in my appointment card for my second Pfizer vaccine shot, as soon as I get inoculated.
When I surveyed some friends about what should go into the time capsule, one suggested Trump himself. Another said she would like to bury the anxiety and constant fear many felt as the former president bungled the response to the pandemic, and we realized the unthinkable: that upward of a half-million Americans could die. One friend said he would put in Hershey’s Chocolate Nuggets, which he swears are better than Xanax.
Food has loomed large for everyone — getting it, hoarding it, cooking it, donating it. What time capsule would be complete without takeout menus and a list ranging from GrubHub to UberEats? These were companies I never heard of before 2020.
I would save the books I picked last year at random for my Zoom book group this winter. Somehow, they’re all relevant to living through a pandemic. I suppose that’s because all good literature distracts us and helps heal our fractures.
For a few weeks, I kept a notepad at my bedside and wrote down the dreams I was having in the worst days. They were all the same: I walk into a room and no one is wearing masks, and I know, I absolutely know, that I will get sick. I couldn’t have had that dream in 2019. I’ll put the notepad in my time capsule.
My best hope is that we can seal our capsules very soon and leave their memories and lessons to history.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.