Reflect for a moment: What do you recall from the last three years of pandemic existence? How much of it has already begun to blur into oblivion?
Since the advent of the pandemic, we've witnessed a whirlwind of events: cancelled proms, frantic searches for toilet paper, nightly applause for healthcare heroes, the rapid development of new vaccines, and the daunting waitlists for the coveted first jab.
COVID-19 disrupted the lives of everyone, but its impact was truly life-altering for a significant portion of the population – those who lost loved ones to the virus, healthcare workers on the front lines, individuals with compromised immune systems, and those grappling with the long-lasting effects of "long COVID."
Yet, for the majority of us, time has a way of eroding the finer details of these extraordinary times. Our brains, it turns out, are not designed to function like computers; they are prone to fading memories.
William Hirst, a distinguished professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York, succinctly put it: "Our memory is inherently prone to fading."
But why are we so eager to forget?
Krishna Rajaram, an expert in memory and cognition, highlights a prevalent human tendency: our inclination to perceive the future through a more positive lens than the past. This optimism regarding the future stems from the flexibility of imagination in shaping what lies ahead, in stark contrast to the unalterable past.
Even emotionally charged and dramatic events, though etched in our minds, are not immune to the passage of time. These memories too fade and distort with each passing day.
Remembering the past is a process we undertake in the present, colored by our current emotions, knowledge, and attitudes. This truth carries profound implications for our retrospective assessment of the COVID-19 era and our approach to the future.
The risk of collectively forgetting another pandemic
The manner in which our society chooses to commemorate the pandemic will significantly influence whether and how it endures in our collective memory. Moreover, it will shape what lessons future generations glean from our shared experiences.
Consider the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which afflicted a third of the global population and claimed the lives of 50 million individuals—more than the combined military casualties of World Wars I and II. Yet, this monumental tragedy faded swiftly from collective memory until the emergence of our present-day pandemic rekindled awareness of it.
The importance of preserving the memory of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. The lessons learned and experiences gained must serve as an enduring testament to our resilience, adaptability, and shared humanity. Our ability to remember this period in our history will undoubtedly influence our readiness to confront similar challenges in the future.