Through March and April and on into May, millions of Americans complied with a societal shutdown so complete that the smog lifted over Los Angeles.
However conflicted we were over the details, however besieged we were by confinement and unemployment, we came together to do what we had to do to hold off Covid.
That was then.
Now, with summer coming and people antsy and broke, we are in a different phase, with some people wearing masks and many not, with some businesses opening and others not, with some stores, bars and restaurants practicing social distancing and others outright defying mandates from respective governors.
Left without a clear idea of what protective measures are being utilized where, and no sign of anybody consistently enforcing the rules, it seems we are on our own now as we wait to see if Covid surges anew, as we ask ourselves the question with even greater urgency, "Is it safe?"
This is even as our nation is gripped by the words, "I can’t breathe."
These are the last words of George Floyd who was detained, and ultimately killed, in Minneapolis on Memorial Day for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. These are the words we hear in the video gone viral of Floyd’s death, a graphic depiction that has outraged a nation, provoking rebellion, vandalism and peaceful protests across the country. These are the words we are left with, as hands in his pockets and sunglasses on top of his head, a dispassionate white officer, Derek Chauvin presses the life out of Floyd’s black body with his knee on his neck.
And with that, our country is back to where we never left, only this time with a pandemic attached.
Those of us who hoped the nationwide shutdown would spark new behavior around the societal ills that Covid illuminated realize now we were perhaps idealistic.
Where there could be a follow-through of clear, unifying direction and leadership, there is pandemonium and dissent around what is now being called two pandemics: the pandemic of Covid and the pandemic of black death.
Health officers told us we should go easy with reopening businesses.
But governors and our president said we should open.
Police officers around the nation seemed as outraged as the regular citizenry around Floyd's death.
But then we watched this past weekend as police in cities throughout the country shot rubber bullets into even peaceful protests, even as others stood and sometimes knelt with protesters.
It seems the letter of the law has become as arbitrary as the justice around white cops killing black men and women in America, as we are left with big gaps in understanding, between what is actually happening and what should be rational next steps:
If we’re going to establish mandates around Covid, doesn’t it seem we should at least try to enforce them?
Now that we know what we know, wouldn’t it serve the collective to start at least naming the inadequacies and inequities the shutdown illuminated, among them, equitable government assistance, income inequality and health insurance?
Now that the death of a black man at the hands of a white cop has finally gotten the attention of other cops and conservative Southern ministers, can we once and for all acknowledge racism is systemic and really begin to address it?
Where do we lay our hope, if not on rational thinking, rational leadership?
Where do we step our feet?
My sons, no stranger to the conversation around race — one of them an activist in Baltimore in 2015 when African-American Freddie Gray died while being arrested by white cops — knew one place we would step this past weekend.
We wore masks, as did at least half of the 300 protestors assembled at the downtown gazebo that is a typical gathering place for our small college town of Kent, Ohio, home of Kent State University.
Typical of our town and our leadership 50 years after the Kent State shootings, police here didn’t shoot rubber bullets like they did in towns and cities throughout Ohio and the country.
Instead police agreed with a request from the local NAACP to stand back and let the event take place without strong police presence. One police officer showed up and left after shaking hands and posing for pictures with the rally’s leadership. Police cars passed by on occasion. A cop waved at the crowd.
Socially distanced and masked, my sons and I were in no danger of being hit by either Covid droplets or rubber bullets.
The only danger for us lay in being drawn in deeper to our own responsibility, which, in the absence of clear, non-partisan leadership, is all that we have, which cried out to me in the faces of the African-Americans at the rally, especially the young.
There was the 22-year-old woman who told me later she works at Wendy's and has a YouTube channel called Green Screen Gal, who stared unflinchingly at me through the intimidatingly long lens of my camera, as with one hand, she held her mask in place and in the other, she held a sign that said in block letters, "Fight the power."
There was her 18-year-old brother, a basketball and football player who just graduated high school, wearing a bright red hoodie and untied tennis shoes, holding a sign that said, "Stop killing us."
I think constantly these days about the vagaries of a killer virus on the loose and the question I have to keep asking myself, especially as I take my health and well-being into my own hands.
"Is it safe?" I am forced to ask as long as the pandemic continues.
As I looked into the eyes of my fellow American citizens at the rally and at protests around the country, it finally dawned on me this is the question they never stop asking.
Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at email@example.com.