Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Shivering in line for a swab up the nose, but doing it together. Reflections on 2020.

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It was dusk on the third-to-last day of a terrible 2020, and beneath a porch of four socially distanced friends laughing with beers in hand, a line of people stood in the cold in Northeast Washington waiting to be tested for the coronavirus.

A mother and daughter embraced.

A 26-year-old texted his younger sister, who lives alone in Japan, to say hi.

And two roommates who met for the first time four months ago discussed the Emergency Prosecco they keep in the fridge for whenever one of them has a bad day.

“We’ve each had it at least once.”

“I’ve definitely used it more than once.”

This was 2020. Ending the year shivering in line for a swab up the nose but somehow still together during this grief-stricken time of siloed living. All year, jokes cracked about how the months have been interchangeable — that it has been hard to mark the passage of time when so many of our quarantined lives started all looking the same. (Another Blursday quip, anyone?) But with the disappearance of 2020, the small developments, the relationships rekindled in the cracks of our daily routines, suddenly seem worthy of appreciation.

Allegra Massaro, a 28-year-old whose first name means “happiness,” has not hugged her mom in a year. On Halloween, she opened her mailbox to find a handwritten card with a picture of a kitten sniffing a pumpkin.

“Enjoy this fun day. I’m reminiscing of how excited you all were for Halloween,” the blue-inked cursive read. “Miss you.”

Massaro cried, out of longing for her mom but also out of love and gratitude. Her holiday spent on the couch in her Northeast Washington apartment suddenly felt meaningful.

Benjamin Bresed’s dumpster-fire-of-a-year included separating from his wife in June. It was made easier, he said, by finding a nanny willing to help out with his 16-month-old baby.

“That has been the single most beneficial thing. Without it, I would have been incapacitated by responsibilities,” he said.

Bresed waited in line for a coronavirus test and laughed when he realized he was standing right beside a dumpster.

“Should we take a picture here?”

How to help during the coronavirus pandemic

Amber Walker, 31, moved to D.C. in March and started going on walks with a friend from college. The two of them had met over a decade ago in the Afrikan Heritage House at Oberlin College, where they together navigated the ups and downs of being Black students at a small liberal arts college in Ohio.

Since graduating, they had seen each other in person once every two years. They rarely talked on the phone more than once or twice a year.

But now, the friends walk weekly. In the summer, they strolled with bottles of rosé. In the winter, it was whiskey and apple cider.

“If it hadn’t been for covid, we wouldn’t have reconnected like this,” Walker said, waiting for a coronavirus test before she moves again, this time to the West Coast. “We made a promise that we would never lose touch again.”

For many, family — chosen and biological — have gotten them through the hardest moments of the year. Out of need for comfort and support, vulnerability grew. Men who once relied on sports and video games to connect learned to go deeper in conversations. People who despise asking for help were left with no other choice. And millions of Americans, who have been sick and isolated with covid-19 developed deep gratitude for the loved ones who helped them survive.

Ryan Knight, 30, was trapped alone in his D.C. apartment this spring when he developed a 102-degree fever. But then, to his surprise, he heard a knock on the door and found rice pudding from his neighbor, an older woman from Haiti whom, at the time, he barely knew.

Eight months later, they exchange meals multiple times a week. Knight makes a black-eyed-pea dish. The neighbor makes beef stew so delicious that Knight has made exceptions to his vegetarian diet.

“It felt good just to have someone who cared about you,” he said. “The friends that showed up for me when I was sick, I will always remember that.”

There are a million adjectives we’ve used to describe 2020. Atrocious, depressing, isolating. But it’s also been unifying. Something to celebrate.

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