December, 2019. News of the coronavirus was just beginning to surface in the media, but not necessarily in the form of breaking news. China was reported to have been hit with a mysterious virus and the world began blowing up memes surrounding the news. Future concerns and pandemics remained out of question as majority of the uneffected world continued to laugh at the viral memes. I was one of those people. I never believed that the spread would have gotten this bad nor believed the coronavirus would hit the United States, and to this day the situation is still so surreal.

According to the CDC, there are now over 1.9 million cases in the United States and over 72,000 deaths.

United States map showing the spread of COVID-19.

The past two months have been quite honestly life-changing. The flow of life is best described to be “on pause”; universities and schools have closed, sports have been cancelled, festivals have been postponed, restaurants and parks have been closed, and people are forced to quarantine for their own safety. I have never felt so much uncertainty and confusion as news reports continue to falsify information, skew data, and inaccurately report. It is weird to not know when things will be normal again — or if they will be normal again. It is weird to not have things to look forward to, a schedule to follow, obligations to meet. Time seems to blend, conversations are held virtually, roads are empty, masks in public spaces are mandatory. The whole situation sounds unbelievable, fantastical, and similar to a dystopian movie as images surface of large empty cities such as Chicago and New York, eerily paralleling scenes from post- apocalyptic movie, I am Legend. I often wonder if I should be scared, upset, angry, but I find myself and others at an odd calm. A feeling of pure refreshment, spiritual awakening, and an overwhelming gratification and appreciation for the small things in life.

Square as of April 2020 (Left). Times Square in dystopian movie “I Legend” (Right).

And what are those small things? What were humans ignoring and taking for granted? Has this pandemic purposely happened to slow down the flow of life? To open up the world’s eyes to nature and the beauty we were ever so quickly ruining? These are all questions that cross my mind as the days of qurantine continue.

When the United States first announced a National lockdown, my outgoing, extroverted, social-butterfly self was not happy. I spent many days moping around my house, spending a disgusting amount of time on social media, and crying about how I missed my friends and social gatherings. Ultimately, I was throwing myself a social distancing pity party. As the days passed, something about myself changed. I was so used to feeling rushed or anxious to meet deadlines, and for the first time in many years, the feeling had vanished. No longer was I caught up in life; the unimportant, materialistic, things in life. Clarity. I finally had clarity to reinvent myself, re-establish my goals, and hone in on my purpose. I began to have a prolific admiration for the world around me, pursue new hobbies thought to be hated such as running, and revisit old hobbies such as painting, crafting, biking, and dancing. Simple and small conversations began to feel interesting again, my phone was less of a distraction, and the true colors of my peers emerged as efforts to unite and remain positive surfaced across social media platforms. The sky seemed clearer, the stars seemed brighter, and the grass seemed greener. Once again, the world and its people seemed to be presenting themselves in the purest way possible. But in reality, we were finally able to see what we had been missing for so long.

Los before (left) and after (right) the coronavirus pandemic shows the air more clear than ever. (National Geographic).

Originally, I questioned how the introverts of the world were feeling during the quarantine. But then I began to wonder if fellow extroverts were feeling similar to me — or was everyone in the same boat emotionally during this lockdown? I decided to find out for myself and interviewed one of my friends.

Q: How has quarantine impacted you emotionally?

A: It’s been really eye-opening and awakening for me. I realized so much toxic stuff in my life because I took a step back and the world stopped. I felt my emotions so deeply. So it’s been super depressing and an emotional rollercoaster for me but it’s helped me so much. I appreciate how fragile life is and how easily we can let things, moments, people, trauma ruin our lives if we don’t stay aware and stay woke. We have to learn to be resiliant and overcome obstacles.

After this interview, I realized isolation can be a beautiful thing. I believe for many people (myself included), life was beginning to run at an unhealthily fast pace. Time was beginning to blend together and experiences were beginning to feel less genuine; ultimately clouding people’s judgement and emotions. Humans now have the time to emotionally release past doubts, feelings, and grudges. There is more time to self reflect, take risks, and make healthy changes in daily routines and mindsets. The coronavirus pandemic is deeper than it seems; there is a bright side to this global emergency.

How many beautiful things have you been blind to before the lockdown? How many emotions were you hiding, grudges were you holding? When was the last time you saw the sunset, sunrise, stars and the moon? When was the last time you took a walk and appreciated the sensory language of nature?

Some of the beauty in life I have been blind to. Captured through a series of raw pictures.

When roads, stores, and boarders re-open, life will not go back to normal. But I hope the new normal is even more amazing, invigorating, and humbling than the last. I encourage people to look inward or outward and take this time to self reflect, re-connect, re-kindle, re-new, re-establish, and re-discover the power within themselves and others. I promise, there is so much more beauty in life when we focus on what really matters.

Marquette University