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“A Roundtable With Darling” offers real talk from a few of our writers. This Q&A series will take an issue and share the writers’ personal experience and lessons learned. The hope is to create a space of connection and transparency.

For our newest edition of “A Roundtable With Darling,” we are delving into discussion about life since the onset of the pandemic and quarantine. We are looking back on the last year and sharing how we have grown through the difficulties and uncertainties of 2020. Our hope is that by creating this space, we will make room for the entire Darling community to grieve what has been lost while also holding hope for the future.

Grab a seat at the table as a few Darling writers share their thoughts on the pandemic and take a look back at 2020:

Where were you when you first became aware of the pandemic and the seriousness of it?

“I was in my office doing work (the last time I would be there for more than a year.) I had heard a few things about the pandemic, but they all seemed far off and like they wouldn’t affect me. It was March 12, and I learned Houston had canceled the rest of the rodeo. It all became real.” — Bailey Coleman, Lubbock, TX

“I opened Zoom for the first time last February and caught the look on my coworkers’ faces—deep concern for how we would care for our town and stay connected for the next “two weeks”as a community in quarantine. Little did we know, we would fight for this connection, not just for the next two weeks, but 52+.” — Ashley K. Jones, Ventura, CA

“Little did we know, we would fight for this connection, not just for the next two weeks, but 52+.”

“When I first heard the news of the pandemic, I was in the middle of starting everything—a new post-grad job, a new apartment and a new relationship. It really did feel like another disruption to a rhythm that had only just been established.” — Judy Lee, South Korea

“I was in Huatulco, Mexico, with my daughter and sister when I first became aware of the seriousness of the pandemic. One night, we ate at a pizza place called La Crema in La Crucecita, and we liked it so much that we decided to eat there again the next night. The second day we went, they were only seating customers at every other table and applying hand sanitizer was mandatory. Things had literally changed overnight.” — Emily Garcia, Central Texas

What were your thoughts upon the initial “Safer at Home” orders and many businesses closing their operations?

“I was wholly on board with whatever it took to flatten the curve, though I wished small businesses got the same support and help that larger businesses that were allowed to stay open received.” — Bailey Coleman

“I mourned because I thought of the paychecks missed and the surmounting stress on small business owners while understanding the need for safety. Then, I watched, with my jaw to the floor, as their resilience was revealed through their grit and their willingness to adapt.” — Ashley Jones

“It was pretty surreal! It felt like a kind of anticlimactic apocalyptic movie with all the inconveniences and none of the visible imminent danger. I didn’t realize then just how serious it would be or how long it would last. I don’t think any of us did. We thought we’d be locking down for a couple of weeks, not adjusting to a new normal.” — Judy Lee

“We thought we’d be locking down for a couple of weeks, not adjusting to a new normal.”

“At first, I was relieved to have what I thought would be a few slower weeks at home. It didn’t bother me that businesses had to close or shift because I thought that the pandemic would be short-lived. I was so wrong!” — Emily Garcia

How did your day-to-day life change during the pandemic?

“I started to work from home before Texas even issued a ‘Safer At Home’ order. I was cooking more than ever before, unable to see my grandparents and trying to adjust to not leaving my home.” — Bailey Coleman

“Before the pandemic, I walked to work every day. I stopped for coffee and paused for conversations that made me late. Now, I attempt to mimic this by lingering on Zoom calls until I am staring back at myself.” — Ashley Jones

“I definitely became lazier. Walking, even just getting up to do simple tasks, was suddenly an extra chore. Not seeing people on the daily was also a big change as an extrovert. I lived alone at that time so I really had to adjust to being by myself 24/7.” — Judy Lee

“When the pandemic started, I was living in Mexico. It became impossible to take my toddler daughter anywhere, even with a mask, because nearly all businesses (even essential ones like grocery stores) implemented a ‘one person per family’ rule. A few months later, we came to Texas to be with my family and have been here since. All of the family time has been such a blessing because the first few months of the pandemic were very isolating.” — Emily Garcia

What were some of the hardest parts about the “new normal” for you?

“I was unprepared for how deeply I would mourn the life that I left behind when I left my office on March 12.” — Bailey Coleman

“I was unprepared for how deeply I would mourn the life that I left behind.”

“In September 2020, I was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. The ‘new normal’ took on a new meaning. My friends and family expressed to me how badly they wanted to be there but could not. Even my dad had to wait in the car during many of my doctor’s appointments because of the pandemic.” — Ashley Jones

“The abrupt departures and separations were probably the hardest part. Adjusting to virtual social interaction was a tough switch. Once I grew tired of the constant screen time, I actually became less inclined to socialize and withdrew more to myself. I found it so distracting and exhausting to see people only through Zoom.” — Judy Lee

“The hardest part has been not being able to see the people I love, like my grandmother, and knowing how isolating that has been for her, too. It has also been hard not knowing when or if the ‘new normal’ will end.” — Emily Garcia

Were there any hidden or surprising joys that you found? What were they?

“I was surprised by how happy I felt to see people out on walks or bike rides around my town when I went to get my curbside grocery orders. I also got a puppy, who is the light of my life, and had more time to care for myself in ways I had not been able to before.” — Bailey Coleman

“When I was hospitalized, visitors were prohibited from going inside. However, I was surprised by several friends who showed up at my window outside. People fought to ensure that I heard them say: ‘You are loved.'” — Ashley Jones

“People fought to ensure that I heard them say: ‘You are loved.'”

“Despite my inevitable Zoom fatigue, I was extremely blessed to find a new community in the midst of COVID-19. I virtually met a group of friends who (mostly) happened to live nearby enough for in-person meet ups. I’m super grateful to have found them despite so many physical barriers. Even though I lost touch with a lot of people I knew before, I forged new relationships that somehow felt even stronger.” — Judy Lee

“I’m introverted, and I don’t thrive on activity or being busy. It was a relief, for once, to not have to explain myself and my desire to stay in because everyone was having to stay in!” — Emily Garcia

What is the greatest lesson you have learned since last year?

“The greatest lesson I’ve learned has been to stop rushing through time, to slow down and enjoy each of the small and beautiful things that are present within each day.” — Bailey Coleman

“I experienced more physical pain this year than I have in my whole life. To be frank, it sucked. This year, I have learned the significance of acknowledging pain without dismissing it. Words like “yet and even” have helped me because they are little bridges that validate my pain while leading me into hope. In pain, I look at the birds and say: And even so, life is beautiful. La vie est belle.” — Ashley Jones

“Slowing down and taking my time is something I haven’t allowed myself to do since college. I’ve always been “on,” always looking to the next thing and never satisfied with being rooted or settled in one place. The pandemic really forced me to ground myself and tame my insatiable wanderlust with a sense of belonging and familiarity.” — Judy Lee 

“The greatest lesson that I have learned is not to take anything for granted.” — Emily Garcia

“The greatest lesson that I have learned is not to take anything for granted.”

How have you changed or grown since March 2020?

“I have learned to treasure the people and the beauty in my life. While at home and unsure of what the future would look like, I had to teach myself to seek out the good in places I hadn’t looked before.” — Bailey Coleman

“I like to think I have matured and that I am a little more thankful and kind.” — Ashley Jones

“I’m still growing for sure, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in relationship with other people. I’ve learned what kinds of friendships I want to build and the type of communities I need to keep me grounded. I’m also more OK with taking things one step at a time now.” — Judy Lee

“Overall, I feel much stronger than I did last year. I have accepted living with more questions than answers. I have learned what it means to suffer and to suffer well.” — Emily Garcia

How is your life different a year from the onset of the pandemic and quarantine?

I have found that I am actually more productive at home and can get more done. I also am more aware of the fact that each person I come across has a story. I have more compassion for others.” — Bailey Coleman

“On the surface, I Facetime and Zoom more than ever. On a deeper level, I am more aware of the brevity of our time here.” — Ashley Jones

“I am more aware of the brevity of our time here.”

“I’m really pursuing my passions in the creative industry without feeling the need for backup plans. It is very freeing to have the time and leisure to prioritize the things I love.” — Judy Lee

“My life looks completely different. A year ago, I was a stay-at-home mom living in Mexico, and now, I am working full-time in retail and living with my parents in Central Texas. I couldn’t have predicted the change, but I am happy and hopeful for whatever the future holds.” — Emily Garcia

How has your world changed since the pandemic and quarantine? What are you hopeful for in the rest of 2021?

Image via Chaunté Vaughn, Darling Issue No. 13

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