Dwelling on past when you can’t see beyond COVID-19

I am deeply appreciative that we live, for the most part, during a time when people are encouraged to “feel their feelings.”

I mean, can you imagine going through this global pandemic with a “stiff upper lip” or pretending that anyone has any experience with the current collision of a public health crisis and an economic disaster? Depending on the day, or hour, I fluctuate from hopeful to desperate to angry. Maybe less angry than these folks, but …

Protesters Ohio

I’m someone who operates best when I’ve got “something to look forward to,” which is probably why I used half marathons to motivate my running regime for years. So now, as we prepare to enter into a new month with very similar restrictions and the calendar remains clear of any activities and plans, I find myself looking backward more than forward.

Months before coronavirus became every conversation, I had a couple of opportunities to visit Europe. A trip to Spain in October 2019 and then France and Amsterdam in January provided the framework for an international art crawl of sorts. Now, during a time of great stress, going through photos of paintings, sculptures and centuries old structures offers great solace. In case you also find comfort in the creative, five of my favorites:

In Madrid, just inside the La Almuden Cathedral, this massive canvas hung near an entryway. And remember thinking, “This queen tho.”

I look at it now, and I think of the helpers. I think of the incredible health care workers who are taking care of those sickened by a still mysterious and supremely contagious virus. I think of the grocery store workers who are going to work every day not knowing whether the people around them are sick. I think of those sitting in garbage trucks, providing us all some sense of normalcy in an otherwise not-at-all-normal time. And I think of those who are being creative and working hard to fill in the gaps when it comes to helping, protecting and researching.

In Toledo, the one in Spain and not my home state of Ohio, we spent the day wandering through winding streets, popping into small storefronts and cafes and staring up at the intricate work that spanned what felt like miles inside The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo.

So many little details over such a huge span of space. And all this works together because people, at various points in time, worked together. Designers, artists, sculptors all had to work together on the little pieces so the big piece would fill you with awe. That togetherness, so evident in this artwork that dates as far back as 1200s, feels absent during this pandemic.

Staying healthy in 2020 isn’t just dependent on what you do, but where you live. Without clear leadership from the federal government aimed at lifting up and helping out, states are left to figure things out on their own, which -- in many cases -- means they’re going up against each other for life-saving equipment. After all this, when we’re finally able to zoom out and hover above this period of time, I fear we’ll see a splatter of differing results instead of a united patchwork of progress that features both variety and commonality.

In Paris, the Louvre Museum is about the size of 35 football fields, nearly 790,000 square feet, but it was this relatively small set of four pieces that said so much. The Four Seasons, which were produced in the 1500s, show the seasons depicted as faces. The blossom of spring, the bounty of fall, the scarcity of winter and the brightness of summer. All looking at each other.

It may not feel like it, but this global pandemic has a seasonality to it. While spring technically started as we experienced the first of the dramatic responses aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, it certainly feels like winter. We’re hunkered down at home with our families, just like we would be if there was a snowstorm. But, in this case, neither the weather forecast nor the calendar will tell us when we’ve moved to a new season in the battle against COVID-19. We’ll eventually move from the hammer to the dance, but we may be dancing for a while.

During this quarantine, I’m taking great comfort in the words of Lauryn Hill, especially her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and her song “Everything is Everything,” when she tells us: “After winter, must come spring.”

In Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is filled with paintings created by a man who had both a brilliant brush stroke and manic depression.

The painting above is Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and I could have stood in that gallery, looking at it, forever. Depending on where your eye focuses in the painting, it’s either calm or chaos. It’s a calming blue or chaotic whitecaps. And now, during this pandemic, it’s either the relative calm of another day at home or it’s the chaos of another day at home.

Inside the museum’s gift shop in January, I got a paper copy of this painting. At that time, those blue waves made me think about the election in November and what could happen. But that was January, pre-pandemic when politics mattered. They don’t anymore. People matter. Of course, the economy matters, but human beings must, must, must come first.

In Madrid, tours through the Prado National Museum and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía gave me a chance to see true masterpieces, including those by Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso.

But it was standing in front of an old prison on a city street that really got me in the feels. Our guide told us about an uprising among Spanish civilians to French troops during the Peninsular War. After many men were shot by the French, women and some of the men who were left, went to this prison and released the inmates so they could fight with them against the French. And they did. After the battle, they returned to their cells. As our guide told us this story, his voice filled with pride and his eyes filled with tears. It was powerful.

What about us now? Are we going to be proud of our actions during this pandemic? Are we going to look at this period of time and note that its difficulty made us better? That it made us more compassionate and thoughtful?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I want to be here for the answers. While this time of uncertainty and fear will be here for a while, it won’t be forever. I’m looking forward to standing with friends and family in front of our homes, inside our office buildings and schools and talking about how we got through this together.


Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd named Max. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, publishes periodically. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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