Who Are We After Year Zero? One Year After the Great Pandemic

Carew Papritz

“I never had time to change my life.”

Revelatory words spoken by a friend of mine during the middle of COVID. But she changed. And we all changed.

Who were we before? We were the 24/7, technology-drenched world where instant wasn’t fast enough and where we couldn’t stop multiplying our multitasking world of kids, work, family, and friends. Where the ultimate badge of honor in our free-for-all frenzied life was for us to intone casually how busy we were.

Then a hole was punched through our universe.

And we were all forced to stop. All of us. To face the same enemy. Together. But in facing this enemy, we also came to face ourselves—as we had never done before. We met our families as we never had time to do. We met our innermost thoughts in ways we never had wanted to. We met panic, anxiety, and death—together and alone.

We were given this most terrible gift—a time drenched in both fear and reflection. The year of the pause. A worldwide deliberation to consider what was most important in our lives.

For many months, we didn’t even allow ourselves to hope, but the rebirth of hope in our lives is everywhere. Yet, with this new hope, we must now ask ourselves the main question:

Who do we want to be after the great pandemic?

A recent poll revealed that over 50% of Americans do not want to go back to the way they lived before. We were all part of a grand experiment in slowing down our lives, and many of us were amazed at how different it felt. Maybe the old normal wasn’t the best normal, but it was the only one we knew…until now.

In the strangest way, the pandemic has given us the fortune to live life to the fullest in a much more purposeful way. Our consciousness has been pushed, and we realize life is so much bigger than ourselves.

But how will we change? Will we become better and transform our lives in purposeful ways, looking at the world with our newfound sense of community sacrifice and dedication? Or, will we go back to who we were before, as if this pandemic were nothing more than a car accident on the side of the road, where we took only a passing glance at the wreckage and then moved on?

For many years, my wife and I wanted to visit the top of the World Trade Center, when we got around to it. Then the towers fell. We vowed never to put off such moments in our lives again. Now, we have all known the falling on a worldwide scale. Now, we can all take the same vow of living—to never put off till tomorrow that which we can live for today.

Thoreau said to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” I think that’s too simple. I say, “prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.” Figure out what you want/need/desire to do with your life, then write it down. Make it real on paper. A life contract you can hold in your hand and not just keep up in your head. Simplify your priorities, make them tangible, and then do them.

My friend who “never had time to change her life” changed it. She quit being superwoman busy. She decided that she didn’t want so many things in her life and sold her big home for a smaller one. She reached out to friends she hadn’t talked to in years. She rediscovered time was to be savored and not so quickly spent.

In the writing of my book, The Legacy Letters, I discovered that legacy is not the sum total of one’s life to leave behind in some parchment of writing or video to be played after one’s death. Legacy is walking the talk of your life every single moment of every single day. That is the gift of honesty you give yourself—to be true to yourself. It is a gift you give to others, showing them how to live with purpose and passion.

This gift is rarely given to so many people at one time. Now there’s only one question left to ask yourself: Who do you want to be after the great pandemic?