Among the biggest questions about this pandemic, especially for those who are cutting back and staying in to stay safe, are: When is it going to end? When is a vaccine going to be available? How effective will it be? What can we safely do until we get a vaccine or the pandemic ends? Etc.

The fact is we don’t know the answers to those questions, and it may be a while, perhaps quite a while, before we do. Which drives us crazy. We want to know, and we want to know now. This is the age of instant everything. Amazon delivers tomorrow. Streaming delivers immediately. We’re not used to waiting. We’re used to getting what we want now. But COVID-19 isn’t that way. It makes us wait, and we don’t like it. But I wonder whether this is unique or whether it’s just putting us back to the way things used to be.

My mother isn’t alive now, but if she were, I’d like to ask her about waiting during World War II. We want the pandemic to be over. She wanted World War II to be over. We want to travel or eat in a restaurant. She wanted her husband, my dad, home — and alive. We can’t go to a concert or a movie. She didn’t know if the next knock on the door would be a telegram from the War Department. There have been times we couldn’t visit people in care facilities or hospitals. My dad read about his mother’s funeral in a letter.

Actually, it was worse than that. The mail service between the U.S. and troops overseas wasn’t all that great. There were delays. Letters and packages didn’t arrive when they were supposed to. (Some things never change.) So my parents came up with a system. They numbered each letter they wrote, so they would know the order in which the letters were written. But when it came to the letter about my grandmother’s passing, the mail messed up. That letter was delayed, and the letter my father read first was the one in which my mother talked about how good his mother looked at her wake.

While we don’t know when the pandemic is going to end, our parents and grandparents didn’t know when the war would end. There would be good news; then there would be bad news. We landed in North Africa. Germans hit us at Kasserine Pass. Italy was taking forever. We drove across France, but the Germans counterattacked in the Ardennes. Island hopping across the Pacific was slow and deadly. Things would look hopeful and then they wouldn’t.

The fact is we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. And for a while, maybe a long while, there may be a new normal that isn’t what we would prefer. But before we feel sorry for ourselves, we should remember that people have been in things a lot worse than COVID-19, and they got through them. We’ll get through this, too. We just have to be patient, especially with each other — not something we’re good at these days — and carry on until we get to the other side.

Pat Allen has lived in Oak Park and now River Forest since 1974.

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