There is so much to mourn at the moment. Even those of us spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are missing things: favorite pastimes, places and people. At the same time, pleasure takes unexpected forms, as we find ways to sustain ourselves and others despite sadness and upheaval.
To document the everyday ways people are living and coping with this catastrophe, I launched “Coronavirus Lost and Found,” an online public archive where anyone can log any losses they’re mourning or solaces they’ve found in recent months. Since mid-April, dozens of people from across the United States and the world have contributed posts. I never intended to inventory a pandemic. My academic research usually focuses on the role of emotion in American wartime culture, especially the forms of suffering that often get overlooked in periods of crisis.
But like most people, I spent much of the early spring unmaking plans. Canceling weekend adventures, gatherings with family and friends and professional opportunities I had worked so hard to arrange was dispiriting enough. I found the thought they would vanish without record to be unspeakably sad.
I created the archive as a space for people to memorialize what could have been – and to record what can now emerge, in its absence.
What’s been lost
Alyssa Samek, a communications professor in Southern California, is expecting her second child and had been looking forward to more frequent swims in the campus pool as her pregnancy progressed. With the pool closed now, Samek writes, she misses “the feeling of gratitude for the gentleness of the water holding my body so softly, the beauty of the sunny blue sky above me as I lie back at the end of my swim.”
Jessica Grim of Ohio, a retired academic librarian and published poet, lost her “other life” – as a Peace Corps volunteer in Myanmar. Grim was 14 months into her 27-month term teaching English to middle schoolers there when coronavirus forced a hasty evacuation. The pandemic snapped Grim out of a landscape of “pomelo, rambutan, snakefruit, durian, jackfruit, 15 varieties of mango, 25 varieties of banana,” she writes. Lost, too, are the “quiet streets at dawn in the Muslim quarter.”
Other contributors to the archive lament creative projects interrupted and disconnection from the communities that animated their work. For 15 years Steve Loya, an elementary school art teacher in Sterling, Virginia, has run a popular after-school art club, now canceled. In one favorite project, Loya encourages experimenting when the kids build whatever they want out of scrap wood. Normally, the final product is a “physical testament to what young people are capable of doing when their imaginations are unlocked and free to wander,” Loya writes.
This year, the sculptures remain unbuilt.
What’s been found
I’ve been astonished by the weight of all the loss shared in “Coronavirus Lost and Found.” But I’m also amazed by the ingenuity with which people have sought and found comfort, even delight.
As the pandemic has scrambled routines, for example, some people have discovered news ways to be with their loved ones.
For weeks, the aggressive pandemic response in Israel compelled Ilana Blumberg, who teaches literature and writing at Bar Ilan University, to stay within 100 meters of her Jerusalem home. That made getting her 10,000 steps a day exasperatingly difficult. So on “one of the many corona nights,” Blumberg writes, she and her 16-year-old daughter threw themselves an impromptu dance party. As they laughed and sweated, Blumberg found renewed wonder at parenthood, marveling “that I gave birth to the body now next to me, independent and strong and eager.
Reflecting on a routine maintained for more than two months now, Sanfilippo-Schulz – who lives in Germany – says she has “found every morning a pleasure for long slow phone calls” with her mother, who lives near hard-hit Milan, Italy. And then, “I found in my teenage daughter a keenness to cook slow recipes at lunchtime with me.”
Mara, a health researcher from Seattle, wanted to set new arrangements for co-parenting her two boys, ages 3 and 9, in the midst of her pandemic routine of “juggling, improvising, cleaning, half-working, trying to breathe.” Ensuring the kids get one-on-one time with both parents under these circumstances, Mara writes, she has learned to be more “patient, understanding, responsive, and appreciative” of her ex-partner. She has even discovered “compassion for his days without [the children], because I know that emptiness and loss.”
Losing and finding at once
The pandemic is measured on a massive scale – in millions of cases, trillions of dollars and a global death toll that ticks upward by the thousands. But as “Coronavirus Lost and Found” reveals, the losses that truly stagger us are often much smaller. They can’t easily be counted, and they’ll never make the news. The selected stories I featured here, with permission of the authors, testify to the magnitude of a calamity affecting every facet of our lives. And although the archive requires contributors to categorize their entries as “lost” or “found,” the distinction is not so tidy. (Add an entry to
“Coronavirus Lost and Found” here.)
When we grieve a loss, we realize how much something meant before it was gone – a mournful accounting of past pleasures. And any happiness we “find” during the pandemic may well be tinged with sadness.
As the archive grows, accounts of refreshed hope stack up next to stories of days emptied out. The losses and founds do not diminish one another, but simply continue to accumulate, side by side, no end in sight.