It’s been 262 days since my birthday, which just happened to be the day that DeKalb County reported its first case of COVID-19 (seriously, worst present ever). That’s eight months and 17 days. Thirty-seven weeks. But in the same way meteorologists talk about the wind chill being different than the temperature, it feels like three years and some change have passed.

I don’t want to sound like I am making light of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Far from it. On so many nights I’ve worried about getting a call that my mother has tested positive and I must hastily say a final goodbye to her through FaceTime on some ICU nurse’s borrowed smartphone.

I know I’m not alone in imagining such a heartbreaking scenario, which could easily happen despite our sincere efforts to keep our names out of the obituaries.

I’m tired, folks. The year 2020 has me feeling like I accidentally walked down the wrong alley and got the beating of a lifetime. Not a literal bruising, but definitely a soul-crushing exercise in delayed gratification as one event after another fell prey to COVID’s inconsiderate disruptions. Missing concerts and postponing trips on my bucket list seems trivial next to the horrors I could have experienced if I had been less careful and a lot less lucky.

I’m realizing so many things I took for granted a year ago. The simplicity of going to a Christmas party or socializing with friends in a public place, exchanging a warm hug or handshake without worrying about covering my face with a piece of cloth. Filtering out a deadly microscopic invader that exists only to fill my lungs with fluids in an attempt to exterminate my species.

I miss going out in public without someone inevitably mocking me for wearing said mask, insinuating the coronavirus is just a media hoax or I’m some type of sheep allowing Big Brother to control me. I hate all of the times I could have said “I told you so” in 2020.

The thing my friends with COVID keep telling me is they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.

I started this year determined to enjoy good times well spent with friends. But then COVID came along like a cinematic villain and cast a shadow over everything. It’s been a grueling year, but there’s reason to feel hopeful as we make new plans and resolutions. We’re told a vaccine is coming, although it won’t be available to most of us until springtime at the earliest, summertime more realistically. I’m fully expecting to spend my next birthday still sitting at home streaming “The Mandalorian” instead of blowing out candles in a room packed with pals.

DeKalb Regional Medical Center is not on the list of 15 hospitals from which the state plans to administer the first doses of the vaccine, but I am hopeful that as more of the vaccine is produced, we will surely defeat this insidious virus.

Meanwhile, we must be patient and resist the temptation to let our guard down. If we give COVID an inch, it will surely take a yard from us. Let’s not give it one single inch. Let’s stop it here, now, no further! Deprive this invisible evil of the fertile airways where it takes root and poisons our bodies. Keep wearing that mask and making good choices. Persist to resist.

As new case numbers escalate and our healthcare providers see resources strained, let’s all do our part for the common good, the same way our grandparents rose to the challenge of world wars and great depressions, putting the country ahead of their immediate gratifications. Keep calm and carry on, as they say.

Each of us needs to practice personal responsibility when we leave our homes to go shopping, visit friends or celebrate the holidays with family. Not just for our grandparents but for strangers we meet on the street as well.

The great take-away from this mighty struggle is how considerate we behave toward one another when tested at our best and our worst.

The world isn’t the same as it was a year ago. My hope is that we will all look back a year from now with a sigh of relief and newfound wisdom gained from reflecting on all that we’ve lost and sacrificed during 2020.

— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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