There’s a new term for babies born around the time of the pandemic: “coronial.”

These are the children whose early months were defined by long lockdowns, broken only by the rare trip to the park or the pediatrician where every face they passed by was wearing a mask and a face shield. These children, along with everyone else under five, belong to a generation that will not remember life before travel restrictions, online schooling, modules, and curfews. They will grow up with hand sanitizers or portable alcohol bottles in their bags, along with extra face masks. Even if the future will reach a semblance of what pre-COVID-19 life used to be, these children will forever be marked by the anxieties of their formative months. They might even be afraid of going near others or touching unfamiliar objects, as curious children in the days of the past did.

My youngest Creative Writing students are already within the range of eight to 10 years old. When we study comparison/contrast essays, I sometimes make them write about their lives before and after the pandemic. In the earlier days of lockdown, I didn’t even have to assign them a topic. They talked, without inhibition, about the things they missed the most about pre-pandemic life, like sports games, mall outings, and fun times with friends. But what surprised me the most was how quickly they adjusted to the situation. By the first half of 2021, they could write about the happy times in their lives despite the ongoing crisis, like playing Minecraft and Animal Crossing, getting new toys, and bonding with their families.

On the other hand, some of my teenage students still struggled. I could not blame them at all. Adolescence is difficult enough without a looming global threat, and asking youngsters to stay optimistic all the time is a tall order. My students write about not seeing their friends and crushes, worrying about their parents’ finances, and fearing that they would miss out on the full college experience. I imagine that current college students are facing a similar crisis. They would never experience getting lost on campus, attending org parties, watching required plays, and sleeping in the library. They could only meet their friends online. Humans are social beings, and sometimes that isn’t enough.

It is obvious that young people everywhere face all sorts of worries and problems due to the pandemic. Even young professionals are affected. Those who graduated from courses related to tourism find themselves frantically looking for other options. Those who are fresh out of medical school or related studies are thrust in the middle of battlefields, frontliners all of a sudden. People from a wide range of courses and backgrounds scramble for the same positions and online jobs. But they are the lucky ones; countless others have no work or means of living.

I am privileged, and the pandemic only made my eyes more open to this. I live with my parents, whose lines of work were not affected by COVID-19. I juggle two online jobs that pay quite well along with my studies in graduate school. But still, there are times when I wish I could just sleep and magically wake up in a world that had never known COVID-19. A world where we could travel for fun again, attend concerts, and meet up with friends anytime. A world where masks were not mandatory, where face shields didn’t make it hard to breathe, where we didn’t have to drench our surroundings with alcohol.

But even that world wasn’t perfect. That world was also full of poverty, injustice, and corruption. The pandemic only amplified these issues and made them visible to those who were too comfortable with their lives. The old normal wasn’t working, and certainly, a huge chunk of its problems crossed over to our situation today. What I wish for right now is a “new normal” that is entirely different from the old one. A new normal with new opportunities for all people. A new normal with justice.

We’re almost out of the pandemic, so it seems, and I’ve been noticing how eager everyone is to forget 2020 and move on from their collective trauma. There are more Instagram posts about weekend outings and vacations. More and more people are getting their first doses. Yet we won’t go back to how things were in 2019. I know that in my case, I’ll still wear a mask and carry around a small bottle of rubbing alcohol. I’ll still flinch and back away if someone else draws too close to me, especially if they’ve just sneezed.

And I know that I’m not alone in this. Whether we accept it or not, the pandemic has made a dent in our lives. We have lived an entire year and more in constant vigilance, doubt, and fear. Like all traumas, we have to brave through it. We cannot wish it away. My only hope is that we take this as a chance to start anew, to stop caring too much about power and profit, and to heal humanity in all ways possible.

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