What Did They Bring in Today?

December 23, 2020

What Did They Bring in Today?

May 29, 2023

The days bleed into each other. I wake up later than usual. It’s nice to get more than 7 hours of sleep every night. I go for a run. I go to work. Mostly, I’m the only one there. When I get back home, I take a shower, meditate and do stretches.

I journal and go to bed. I longed for this life. A year ago, heck, even in February, I would ask myself “Why do I have to do so many things? Why am I tired all the time? Why can’t I prioritize myself? Why don’t I give myself a break?”

I go grocery shopping once a week. I know there’s a line to enter the store. Before I park, I drive around to check it out. Is it shorter today?

Most of the time I find what I need. But, sometimes, it’s not so: no meat, or toilet paper, flour, or baking powder. Weirdly, this makes me smile.

Empty shelves remind me of my childhood. I grew up in Romania under the socialist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

We would never know what we could find in the store. Often, there was very little to find. Sometimes, we would get butter for two weeks in a row and then none for months. So we stocked up with as much butter as we could fit in the fridge. The following week, we would get chicken. So we’d put it in the freezer. Another day, toilet paper. The bathroom cabinet was stacked to the ceiling with paper products.

Once or twice a year, mom would treat us by ordering by phone. She would start calling as soon as they opened. She’d try to get through the busy tone for hours. She prepared a written list so she would be ready. Sometimes she could get some things off the list; other times they would be out of stock for a lot of items. And sometimes, they would have really cool stuff: chocolate, oranges, bananas, clementines. It was like Christmas in July.

The uncertainty was worse than the scarcity. What will you find when you go to the store? You’d never know. Unfortunately, I feel that a lot of my American friends can now relate.

The situation in the US now, in the time of the Covid-19 lockdown, feels familiar. I am okay. I’ve been here before. I’m so sorry it’s stressful, but this too shall pass. It will take months, maybe a year, but we’ll get back to normal. I lived like this in Romania for 20 years. My parents lived a version of this for 40 years. With patience, things will get better.

Our president in Romania was narcissistic and incompetent. He surrounded himself with people just like him. The news was a joke. You’d never know what was true from fake. Our leaders could never accept any bad news ever. Everything had to be glorious. You could be imprisoned for telling the truth.

Yet we lived. We somehow survived (at least some survived). It wasn’t a pandemic. But people died in prisons for no good reason, some just because they dared to tell the truth. It wasn’t fast and furious like this pandemic; it was long and gradual.

This gives me perspective: we, humans, get to go through good times and bad times. And it happens to us all. Sometimes we create bad times through poor management or the need for power and control. Sometimes, the bad times are just inevitable. Incompetent leadership makes bad times worse.

I want a better world for my son. He’s 14 and he asked me what’s wrong with his generation and all the bad times that they’ve had: the storms and hurricanes, the wars, Al Qaeda, and now, THE novel coronavirus. I told him that every generation has experienced adversities: war, socialism, floods, pests, epidemics, invasions, slavery.

“Hey, kid, do you think you guys have it bad.”

My grandparents in Romania lost homes and all their income when the socialists arrived in 1944 after World War II. My parents lived through the war in their childhood and then raised children during socialism. I never thought I would ever be able to leave Romania. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As for my son, all I can do is be happy that we go through this together and he has our experience as an anchor to help him through whatever else will happen to him and the world when we’re gone.

It seems that humanity cannot exist without crises, without good times and bad times. When we don’t have natural disasters like this novel virus, we go to war, or we find a way to oppress others.

This novel virus will pass. We will find a new normal. A lot of people will be hurt, some will find a better life. Maybe this will lead to a better healthcare system, or at least we’ll understand how important public health is. This is a tunnel, a very long tunnel, maybe the longest tunnel in some of our lives, but there’s a light at the end of it.

And a lot of people will have learned to appreciate their families more, and will know their neighbors better. Parents will understand teachers. Families will be stronger together. More people will start washing their hands; more people will appreciate science. We will have a new baby boom generation. And a generation of students that will want to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professions. Or maybe STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) professions: we will have more artists and a lot of powerful works of art.

Like the people in Romania, we will find strength and inspiration in each other. We will cope, we will find workarounds. Together we will succeed. The times are bad now, but this too shall pass.

Ileana Balcu is a project manager for Dulcian, a software company and has a passion for healthcare, teaching the Digital Health Communication class at TCNJ - a liberal public college in NJ. Her dream is to help everyone find their healthiest selves. And, she’s an MEA Online graduate.

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