Following the turmoil and uncertainty of the past year, the unfolding of events over the past month has brought a sense of relief. Because of a somewhat superstitious nature and having seen far too many premature celebrations gone wrong, relief is about all I can muster at this point. Perhaps I’ll feel more celebratory after receiving my final vaccination shot.

I suspect most of us, to some degree, have had our creativity, resilience and even sanity tested over the last 14 months, which was when a COVID-19 case was first reported in Minnesota. Some of the first cases were reported locally. White Bear Lake resident Greg Bartz was the fifth person in Minnesota to test positive for coronavirus. Talking to him in person about his experience — while taking photos for a Press story by Deb Neutkens — created a strong, tangible awareness that the virus was serious and not to be taken lightly. He recovered, but his descriptions of the illness, including feeling like his lungs were filled with broken glass, put me on high alert. He also conducted his own contact tracing and surmised he caught the virus during a Rotary Club trip to Vail. He recalled visiting a packed bar in late February filled with people from all over the country and the world. The guitar player entertaining the crowd that evening tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized on March 10. He died on March 21. The international travelers in attendance that evening could have possibly brought the virus into this country or home with them.

As we begin to hear more good news concerning the ongoing pandemic, I wonder if we will be able to take some of the positive lessons we have learned over the past year and integrate them into our daily lives. Some of these lessons are more tangible, like changes in habits, the importance of family and the simple joys of outside activities, including the almost primal comfort of social gatherings around fires. Others are a little more abstract, like exercising empathy, creativity and flexibility.

A recent article on the AARP website titled, “Lessons the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Taught Us” pointed out that we are emerging from not just “one deep crisis but three: a pandemic, an economic meltdown and one of the most fraught political transitions in our history. Interwoven in all three have been challenging issues of racial disparity and fairness.” This combination of factors created a high pressure situation that we can learn from and draw on to potentially improve our lives moving forward. Several examples are listed in the article including the importance of family, the unleashing of a revolution in medicine, accelerated digital adaptation and the ability to work effectively from home. The pandemic has magnified how important long term relationships, self care and intergenerational family connections are to our health and well being. It also showed that “the scientific community working together can do some pretty amazing things.” The new mRNA vaccines were produced in record time and may have fundamentally changed the way drugs are developed. With the help of technology like internet connectivity and video conferencing, workers who were forced to work from home out of necessity have discovered they can be just as productive as in the office. These transformative developments could have positive impact far into the future.

Since the first tense days of the pandemic, when there were still many unknowns, I began starting each day with a deep breath. This simple physical act, followed by a sense of gratitude, has gone a long way as one of the positive, first steps moving toward a new and hopefully improved version of reality. 


Paul Dols is photojournalist/website editor for Press Publications. He can be reached at 651-407-1238 or

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