Notes From a Pandemic: March 21st, 2021

by Miles Raymer

Greetings, dear friends of the present and curious citizens of the future.

Yesterday, March 20th, marks the one-year anniversary of Humboldt County’s original shelter in place order. Today, March 21st, marks the one-year anniversary of my first pandemic journal. So I thought it would be a good time to check in and share some updates and reflections.

Current and Coming Crises

When my first pandemic journal was published, fewer than 12,000 global deaths were attributed to COVID-19. Today, that number exceeds 2.7 million, including more than half a million Americans. The US has suffered more than twice as many deaths as any other country, with the single exception of Brazil.

I think America’s response to the pandemic has been a messy mixed bag, with significant wins alongside breathtaking losses. The experimental approaches across different states have been useful and informative, even if also discouraging at times. Overall, I can’t help feeling that we could have done––should have done––so, so much better. The post-COVID era will be full of analysis and arguments about how we might have responded more effectively in the pandemic’s first year, and I expect many keen insights and observations will be made. If this conversation could be kicked off with a handful of brief declarations, surely these deserve our immediate attention:

  • Science-based policies are essential and must be communicated clearly and consistently by governments and media
  • Political structures and leaders must be sensitive and responsive to the general welfare 
  • Public safety and economic security go hand in hand
  • Life is inherently risky, and our collective well-being is best served by reducing and minimizing risk rather than attempting to eliminate it

I believe these statements apply to all humans, everywhere, and the consequences of not taking them seriously will be dire. This pandemic is just a taste of what’s to come, and a rather tame one. The rest of this century (and perhaps those beyond) will boil over with a gobsmacking array of crises, each modifying the others to produce new horrors. Climate change will be the primary driver of chaos, with no shortage of minions to support its onslaught.

As a species, there are two ways we can meet this moment. The first is to collapse and crumble––to turn on each other in internecine bids to secure dominion over a newly-despoiled wasteland. Nobody actively wants this, yet a combination of ancient tribal instincts, entrenched power structures, and domination-enabling technologies may conspire to bring it about. The alternative is to come of age, to evolve into a species more capable and ethical than any that came before. Such a species just might have a shot at nurturing this planet to its full potential––not as masters, but as observers and caregivers, midwives for nature’s myriad miracles. Our arrows of aspiration need not breach the impossible horizons of perfection or utopia. The targets are tangible qualities we can observe and cultivate in the present moment: competence, compassion, maturity, wisdom.

Vaccine Victories and Salutary Setbacks

From my little office here in Humboldt, I have happy news to share. Ma and Jessie are both now fully vaccinated, and just yesterday, I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine.


It felt quite serendipitous to receive my first shot on the anniversary of Humboldt’s shelter in place order, and I am thrilled to know that I’ll be fully vaccinated by the end of April. I marvel at the speed with which the combined powers of science, capitalism, and government produced and started delivering the vaccines. This incredible accomplishment makes me genuinely optimistic that humans have the right stuff to take on future challenges.


Now that we’re protected from the virus, it’s hard to overstate the intense sense of relief that permeates the Raymer household. Our energies have been laser-focused on safety for the last calendar year, so we’re fortunate and grateful that these efforts paid off. We are slowly shifting back to old habits, including planning trips for the spring and summer. We’re excited to see the pandemic subside in our corner of the world.

To be entirely honest, I’m also intimidated by the prospect of being vaccinated. This emotion is a bit difficult to articulate, but it has something to do with the simplicity and comfort I found in being forced to make safety my number one priority over the last year. This emergency exerted a clarity and indisputable power that I’ll miss as I once again confront the endless possibilities of life beyond my front door. It’s like my inner introvert wants the pandemic to last forever. Or, to avoid perpetuating widespread suffering, he wishes the pandemic would end but that he could still stay home almost all the time without being judged or going broke. This part of my personality will not and should not get his way, but he’s not going quietly. Transitioning back to the “real world” will be…a process.

Complicating this process is a piece of unhappy news: after spending nearly a year taking prerequisite courses and working on application materials for HSU’s Counseling Master’s Program, I was informed that my application was rejected earlier this month. Apparently it was an unusually competitive year, with more than 80 applicants vying for just 12 positions. I was extremely disappointed with this outcome, but after a day spent wallowing in abject misery, I swallowed my pride and started working on next steps. This was facilitated in no small part by a warm wave of support from friends and family. Fortunately for me, self-pity has a tough time taking root in the soil of social abundance.

At a glance, there seem to be lots of ways to engage with my community that may also contribute to my career goal of becoming a counselor. Opportunities are scarce at the moment due to ongoing COVID restrictions, but I expect that to change rapidly as the vaccine rollout continues. For now, I’m focusing on making contacts and lining up possible volunteering gigs that can commence in the near future. My current plan is to apply to HSU’s program again next year, hopefully with a much-improved skillset and resume.

In the meantime, who knows what life may bring? I’ve had to roll with a few nasty punches lately, but despite the frustration it’s good for me. Every obstacle offers opportunities for learning and growth, so I’m trying to channel my inner Stoic and remember that the only way to truly fail is to lose my cool when a new setback presents itself. “Let it be thine only care and study,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “how to make a right use of all such accidents. For there is good use to be made of them, and they will prove fit matter for thee to work upon” (Meditations, Book Seven, XXXI).

Rebirths and Farewells

To signify my hopes for the future, I decided to transplant the Japanese maple that Jessie and I planted on our wedding day in 2016. It hasn’t done very well in the spot I originally chose––not enough sun and too many big trees nearby. It’s managed to survive but has barely grown and even lost some limbs last year. So I moved it to a sunnier, less crowded spot in the southwest corner of the garden.

Tree One

The maple seems healthier now (or at least not dying!), and even started unfurling some fresh leaves over the last week. If all goes well, it will thrive with the rest of us, growing up and into new possibilities after a dour dormancy. With spring upon us, renewal is in the air!

Looking ahead, I am reminded of Albert Camus‘s observations at the end of The Plague:

Yes, they had suffered together, in body no less than in soul, from a cruel leisure, exile without redress, thirst that was never slaked. Among the heaps of corpses, the clanging bells of ambulances, the warnings of what goes by the name of fate, among unremitting waves of fear and agonized revolt, the horror that such things could be, always a great voice had been ringing in the ears of these forlorn, panicked people, a voice calling them back to the land of their desire, a homeland. It lay outside the walls of the stifled, strangled town, in the fragrant brushwood of the hills, in the waves of the sea, under free skies, and in the custody of love. And it was to this, their lost home, toward happiness, they longed to return. (278)

As we begin returning to happiness in our own ways, let’s be especially attentive and compassionate toward those who have lost loved ones during this dark time. Here again Camus is instructive:

For these last, who had now for company only their new-born grief, for those who at this moment were dedicating themselves to a lifelong memory of bereavement––for these unhappy people matters were very different, the pangs of separation had touched their climax. For the mothers, husbands, wives, and lovers who had lost all joy, now that the loved one lay under a layer of quicklime in a death-pit or was a mere handful of indistinctive ashes in a gray mound, the plague had not yet ended. (275)

The grim truth is that, for many people, the pandemic is no transitory tragedy. Millions have had their lives permanently defiled by this disease and our failure to contain it, with more still to come. The only rational and ethical response is to internalize the lessons of this experience and use them to make the world better, safer, and more just.

Every celebration of life is a defiance of death, and every death is a reminder to celebrate life.

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 122,964,412 confirmed cases, 2,711,747 deaths

United States: 29,787,742 confirmed cases, 541,984 deaths

California: 3,639,874 confirmed cases, 57,425 deaths

Humboldt County: 3,419 confirmed cases, 35 deaths