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Opinion: A New Phase Of Uncertainty

A woman holds her 1-year-old son as they wait in line to get a coronavirus test.
Boston Globe via Getty Images
A woman holds her 1-year-old son as they wait in line to get a coronavirus test.

We don't know when this will all be over. Those may be the hardest words to hear.

We spend most of our lives planning around calendars and clocks, schedules, seasons, schooldays, holidays, ETAs, projections and informed predictions.

I try not to compare any other tests in life to war. But because I've covered wars and conflicts, I think I recognize what many people in places like Sarajevo, Asmara, or Afghanistan always told me: it is not just the danger, but the uncertainty of not knowing when a crisis, the hardship, loss, and peril, will be over.

The coronavirus is now much more widespread than it was in March, when many of us began to count the weeks; which have become months; and now will clearly stretch into next year. Scientists have learned a lot about the virus, and refined treatments. But words we've sometimes used to try to get hold of what's happening may have put wrong metaphors into our minds. Wave is not quite right, because the coronavirus won't swell, then just fall, like an ocean wave. Surge is not quite right because at this point, more than eight months into the pandemic, the rise in cases is not sudden, but continuous.

Many places, countries and states, that thought they had seen the worst, done the best, and moved on are again overwhelmed with new cases, and more losses. Each week, we learn more about people who no longer test positive for the virus but continue to struggle with prolonged symptoms of COVID-19, including shortness of breath, endless fatigue, and a kind of brain fog.

It is hard to have patience when we know, every day, of so many precious lives lost too soon. What may give glimpses of hope, though, is the work of people in so many places who mask up each day to keep life going: health care workers, bus and truck drivers, people who work in fields and stores, teachers and construction crews, and those who deep-clean the places where others work, including the very studio I'm in now.

We may not be able to defeat, overwhelm, or kick the coronavirus in the backside — more metaphors that now fall flat. But each day, we can help each other, and rise above fatigue and despair. We can wear masks, stay a social distance apart, avoid big gatherings, look for chances to make each other laugh, and help each other keep going, until that time when the masks we wear today can become souvenirs, instead of survival gear.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.