I returned to the scene of something normal last Saturday when I shot photos at the Yankton High School prom’s Grand March. It was one of so many things that never happen a year ago after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Somehow, the Grand March got me thinking about the movie “Avengers: Endgame,” because why not?
Specifically, what came to mind was “The Snap.”
If you haven’t seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) “Endgame,” as well as its predecessor, “Infinity War,” let me boil down an otherwise complicated explanation to this (warning: spoilers ahead): The main villain in both movies — a hulking, computer-generated alien warrior named Thanos — acquires the powerful stones he needs to literally snap his fingers and make half of all life in the universe turn to dust. (He does this in “Infinity War.”) In “Endgame,” the superheroes eventually collect those stones (which is a REALLY complicated explanation) and undo “The Snap,” bringing everyone back from their dusty limbo.
So, the Grand March felt a little as if the “Snap” of the pandemic had been undone, if only for about 35 minutes.
Really, that’s how this entire ordeal has felt. When COVID engulfed us in March 2020, the whole world seemed to change in a snap: So many events vanished, whatever was normal disappeared.
A year later, that old life is slowly coming back — not in a snap, but step by cautious step. We’re gradually arising from the dust.
As it turns out, the MCU’s epic story arc — which it built through many movies across many years — wasn’t simply about “The Snap” and its subsequent unsnapping. And I’ve been thinking about that, too.
Marvel’s two recent limited television series, “WandaVision” and, particularly, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” fleshed out “The Snap” in rather grim, un-comic book ways. The former series was rooted in the impact of “The Snap’s” momentous fallout on the lives and the economies of those left behind, while the latter show delved into the new world created when all those people who had vanished suddenly came back and crushed the new social and civic systems that had filled the void. Life didn’t instantly reset to normal: Jobs were lost, “returnees” discovered that the homes they once lived in were now occupied by others, there were massive tides of refugees which had become a global problem and there were groups willing to violently defend what they had gained after “The Snap.” In short, simply resetting things to the way life used to be was impossible, because something new had taken its place.
Obviously, in our non-cinematic universe, we won’t have as dramatic (or traumatic) of an adjustment in the slowly dawning post-pandemic, but some things will be different and not necessarily easy.
For instance, COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear in a literal or figurative snap, which means staying on guard will likely remain our normal to some degree for the foreseeable future. Some people will be more diligent about it — masking up, distancing and all that — while others will resist it all even more defiantly. This could cause even deeper social and political divisions, as if we needed any more.
We’re seeing this already. There’s been controversy over “vaccine passport” apps that prove that someone has been vaccinated. Some critics have spun this into a civil rights issue and have expanded it into a controversy over health record privacy and fears of government overreach. Meanwhile, there are schools and universities weighing not allowing students to enroll in on-campus classes unless they have proof of vaccination. Some workplaces and other institutions might do the same thing. This will generate some sharpened feelings, not only for the people opposed to providing such proof but also for, say, business owners who want to protect their workers and customers.
And what happens if a new surge arises or a new variant threatens? Will there be health emergencies and lockdowns? Will some people defy such measures? (You know that answer already, but I have to ask.)
There’s also the matter of assessing our overall COVID response and crafting a historical narrative about it. Did America overreact to the pandemic? To me, 574,000 dead would suggest no, but others disagree. And there are those who, in metaphorical MCU-speak, will contend that Thanos’ threat was overstated and all those people who were snapped out of existence would have turned to dust anyway. Yeah, that will be interesting to watch.
Ultimately, having facets of our old life return from the pandemic dust really won’t mean life in totality will be back to the good old normal. Instead, our lives will likely remain a little different for a long time to come.
Getting used to it may not be a snap, but honestly, it will still beat the alternative.
Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.