Today, the pandemic version of our “Five Questions With …” comes to an end. Over the last three months, we have introduced you to just under 50 Vermonters and let them explain, in their own words, how their lives have been shaped by the pandemic and, specifically, how they have been coping with self-isolation in the modern age.
We heard from a frontline nurse, educators, single parents, state leaders, business owners, a bank executive, several artists, musicians and writers, as well as advocates for Vermont’s most vulnerable populations. The group was as diverse as our state, and some of their answers reflected the difficulty of the times we now face. There were pleas for mask-wearing, and calls for more funding for PPEs and relief for small businesses. Across the three months, we encountered touchstones of social justice, food insecurity, unemployment and anxiety. There is a lot to be worried about.
This project enjoyed a level of reader engagement that was impressive and informative. It proved to be an exercise in chronicling a pivotal moment in history while also allowing us to share in its hardship. The project resonated with readers, and some of the profiles spurred other individuals to want to participate in kind.
Our five questions were personal; they were designed to force participants to be self-reflective. And while every person answered the questions in their own unique way, there were poignant, broad themes throughout. Some of them suggest that this pandemic might have changed us all in some very positive ways.
Consider these five takeaways:
First, as inconvenient and challenging as self-isolation has proven to be, it has broken bad habits and created better, healthier routines. Individuals said they found themselves eating better, driving less, reading more, saving money, using their time more wisely. With a few exceptions, our participants had found better paths. (And those exceptions said they were still just sorting out what their “new normal” really is. To be determined.)
Second, nearly every person said they had reset their priorities, and shifted their focus back to family and friends. Most said they appreciated, above all else, the closeness that has come from this forced interaction, and getting to know better the very people they thought they had known all along.
Third, the consensus was clear: Technology can be used as a tool to unite. The ease with which we have adapted to working remotely and checking in with people far away has improved our interpersonal communication skills, and made us more compassionate to the needs of others. It has proven to be invaluable.
Conversely, nearly every person talked about how they had somehow reconnected with nature and their community. They gave examples of meeting neighbors for the first time, or exploring some corner of our beautiful state. They had somehow become “woke” to the world around them.
Lastly, the answers were filled with humor and hope. The final question — What do you feel the lessons will be that come out of all of this? — mostly elicited glimmers of positivity rather than offering cautionary tales.
Gayle Townsend-Lang wrote, “I believe life as we’ve known it will never look the same. But we can adapt, we can make things better. We already have. Change can be good. Change can be positive.” And Carrie Allen noted, “This has been a tremendous reminder of what’s really important in our lives and how little is ‘essential.’”
And as Paul Costello notes in our final installment today, “I think the lessons we learn may change our culture and help us approach many of our ideals and aspirations in new ways.”
There is an overarching lesson here, too: We really are doing this together, even when we’re scattered and apart and isolated. Resilience is the test of how we respond — individually and as a community — in the face of adversity. By the accounts you have seen here since March, we are doing just fine.
Here at the newspaper, we transition back to a regular publishing schedule next week, and have put our focus into lifting up our downtowns as they rebuild and recover. That is why the next phase of “Five Questions With …” will be talking with Vermonters who are at the center of how the lessons we learned are put into actions to move us all forward.
It is these shared experiences — and the glorious faces of our neighbors, friends and family — that remind us just how important any change can be. We are grateful for these voices and the collective wisdom therein. And we are so happy and honored that we could share them with all of you.