What was your life like at this time last year?
You may not remember the details, but if you think back to the end of February 2020, or the first few days of March, you may remember that you still resided in the vanished land we now call normal. Most Americans did.
One thing I remember is that on Feb. 28 I wrote my first coronavirus column, a piece on how we needed to stop touching our faces if we wanted to avoid this new disease that didn’t yet have a formal name or explanation. “No face touching!” was guidance from the experts, and it seemed worth sharing.
But fewer than half a dozen Americans had died of the virus at that point. If we’d heard about masks, it was only to be told we didn’t need them. Social distancing? Not in the common vocabulary. Lockdown? Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, that was something that happened only in prisons.
Even then, though, I felt a flutter of apprehension, the kind you feel when you sense a storm coming while the sky remains clear. I’d flown back from New York earlier in the week and, noticing a guy in the airport security line wearing a mask, I’d thought, “Does he know something the rest of us don’t?” I registered the fear and then got on the packed airplane without a second thought.
That Friday night, after I finished my face-touching column, I headed without qualm to the Billy Goat Tavern in downtown Chicago for a farewell party for a couple of colleagues. Dozens of us crowded inside, drinking, laughing, crying a little, shaking hands, hugging. We probably touched our faces.