OPINION: Plotting the Pandemic


Hailey Stessman

Although it may seem logical to compare the pandemic to the plot of a movie, it can be incredibly invalidating to the experiences and burdens others have had to endure in the past year. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

It seems like just yesterday that my professor paused in the middle of his lecture to make an announcement to our class: “The rest of the semester will operate remotely.” Phones were pulled out of pockets to watch the email notification from the school pop up on the screen. Gasps and remarks of disbelief were shared amongst nearby peers. Within the span of thirty seconds, the atmosphere shifted to a state of surrealness and confusion.

The closest I could compare it to would be the typical last day of school before summer vacation. Spirits were oddly high, and teetering on the edge of celebratory, on the shuttle ride back to my car. Frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to join the liveliness others were experiencing; it was strange and slightly off-putting to me.

Looking back on that day after an entire year has passed, the carefree attitudes expressed in those moments make sense. We were in the midst of the unknown; we weren’t aware of the sheer magnitude of the situation.

At that point, it was as though we were embarking on the plot of a horror film, and we were simply in the exposition.

College student Hailey (nineteen years old, English major, notable germaphobe) exits campus with a pit of anxiety deep in her stomach. She tries to reassure herself, “The virus won’t spread to our state. We’ll be safe.” Little did she know what would ensue in the next months.

I would like to believe that we are currently on the slope of the falling action, but unfortunately, we need to remember that there are no team of writers plotting out the events of this year.

During this prolonged period of quarantine, I know that I am not alone in referring to living through a pandemic as being a character in a movie. Whether you perceive yourself as the main character or as a bystander, translating our pandemic experiences into the scope of a film has been widely adopted as a way to cope with the realities of the last year.

Although I will admit that it can be easy to compare the state of the world during this pandemic to the setting of a thriller film, as I have shared above, I’m not too sure of how healthy it is for our minds.

We cannot assume that we are all characters within the same plotline; none of our experiences can be grouped into one. For some, this past year has been a moment of clarity where inner truths and lessons have been learned while being isolated at home. Others have experienced immense loss and pain, whether it be the grief of having to let go of a loved one or the numbness of experiencing the same day over and over again. And there are those who are simply begging for the credits to roll.

Is it fair to reduce all of these experiences to scenes written in a script? Is it okay to be in the mindset that the effects of this pandemic will end once we exit this metaphorical movie theater?

To me, it can be dangerous to limit our realities to the nature of a fictional context or blame the events of the year to a writer’s creation. Although at times it can seem like the world is falling through your fingertips, know that you still have agency and control over yourself and your life.

You and your experiences are valid, along with the emotions you carry with you.

Hopefully soon you will no longer wish for the credits to roll but be eager for life to go on.