Reflecting on The New Normal

Written by Meagan Alford

The world is now over a year out from the devastation of COVID-19, the novel Coronavirus that swept through the Earth in 2020, touching and changing every hemisphere. Though we are moving and looking on to a newer normal, our world is still recovering from the ways that COVID-19 has impacted our lives, and there is an opportunity to reflect, and to begin to make sense of the chaos around us, and how students have found new ways to cope.  

From virtual graduations to missed concerts and weddings, there is no person left untouched by COVID-19 a year later. Video by Nessa Parrish

Amanda Morgan Fann, a UTC graduate, never expected that the virus would steal away her senior year of college, let alone arrive in the United States. 

“When I first heard of Coronavirus, I never fathomed it would spread to the United States,” she recalls feeling in March of last year. Fann has since graduated from UTC but feels that those final moments have been stolen from her, as well as many other seniors in her class. 

“It was not the typical graduation,” Fann recalls. UTC’s graduation was held on Chamberlain field, students spread out far from one another — no family, no parents. 

“It almost felt like our class had been forgotten,” she expressed, “time just moves on.”

When Fann learned that UTC was to extend spring break by another week, she felt what was first nervous excitement. This later turned into deep concern and fear when UTC made the decision to finish the academic year via Zoom, and the school would be closing for face to face meetings indefinitely. 

As the staff quickly adapted the entire university’s curriculum to an online format, students quickly realized that their lives on UTC’s campus were going to drastically change. 

“It was almost like this dystopian future,” Fann said, “we’re done.”

Now, as the campus slowly comes back to life, many still feel that we are slowly recovering and emerging from the ruin of 2020. Fann recalls a chilling journal entry called “After the Storm,” from April 21st, 2020. It was about the tornado that touched down and cleared dozens of businesses and homes, leaving 21 hospitalized, and a four-year-old child named Grayson, dead. 

“Sometimes the quiet seems mocking,” she reads. Fann knows that she is a creative communicator, and most importantly, a storyteller. “The pandemic will not change that,” she says and leaves us with a call to hope, saying, “although times are dark and confusing, we will see a brighter day. Until then we can find hints of light beating through the dark clouds. The dark and light. The new normal.” 

Before the pandemic, life on campus was alive and active, and the news of Coronavirus making its way to America was hard to accept for many. 

“Y’all are overreacting. Nothing is going to happen,” Rachel Watt, UTC student, remembers her professor saying. 

“It’s almost like we lost a year,” she says. 

For many, the new normal was not an easy transition. Watt expressed that conducting school online did not bother her initially, but over time found herself missing the absence of her friends, and life on campus. 

She remembers thinking, “I miss my classmates. I miss the collaboration. I miss my professor and all the aspects of being with a group of people.” 

Among the many new adaptations that people faced throughout the pandemic, for Watt, it was the loneliness that caused her to find new ways to cope. 

What was first finding ways to pass the time, became a journey of learning how to love being alone with one’s self. “Writing and taking photos was the only thing that got me through it,” she says. In a reality where online consumerism is at an all-time high, Watt chose to lean into creativity, and self-reflection. 

“I should probably create instead of consume,” she says, “so I started writing and the more I started writing the more I was like, ‘I really feel this, this is tangible evidence of my emotions right now,’ and it helped me process and even form more ideas for projects that would carry me through quarantine.” 

“Every day has extreme value,” Watt says, explaining how though she was alone for most of quarantine, she learned how to become friends with herself. 

“I started writing things that I liked, that I appreciated about myself,” she says, “I really built a relationship with myself and learned self-love.” 

For Marielle Echavez, it was the view from her window, day after day, that caused her too to reflect deeper. She painted, hung out with her cat Pancake and her now fiancé, and took the opportunity to make a connection to her room, the space, and the environment. 

Echavez describes a dystopian time when her roommate tested positive for COVID-19, and the health department called them to tell them what to do, as Hamilton County’s numbers for positive cases sat at 120,000 people. 

Like Fann, Echavez recalled a journal entry from Monday, April 13th, called “Eye of the Storm,” in which she too describes the devastation of the tornado, impacted on top of a pandemic. 

She said she felt like Sylvia Plath, who said, “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

Marielle Echavez claps as her fellow classmates walk across the graduation stage. Photo by Billy Weeks

Echavez says that looking back is hard, and she is inclined to try and forget the trauma of these events. 

She says, “and in the eye of the storm I recognized that the reality of the pain and the impact of this pandemics is very real. And as I sit here quarantine, in my tiny apartment, in the middle of this surrounding hullabaloo, I am grateful for my health and safety and deeply wishing for healing for those that have been affected by this pandemic in terrible ways,” she says, “for now all I can do is stay home.” 

We never could have imagined what would happen to us, once the virus arrived, bulldozing through each and every one of our lives. Now, a year later, it would seem that there is hope and healing in store, pouring out sweet and slow, like honey from a jar. As we recover from a year of chaos and confusion, it would seem that the only thing left is a longing to see everyone we care about happy, alive and healthy. 

The last year has left the world forever changed. Audio by Kalie Shaw

Meet The Storytellers

Meagan Alford is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a Creative Writing major, with a minor in Communications. Her strengths include bringing people’s stories to life on the page and leaving readers with something they will remember. She specializes in works of creative nonfiction, and short stories. She is patient, observant, and works well in teams of other like-minded creatives. She enjoys coffee and long discussions with friends on her front porch in Chattanooga, TN. If you have a story that you would like thoughtfully and carefully written, please contact Meagan Alford via email at meagantyler.alford50@gmail.com.

Mark Drinkard has 3 years of experience in student media. From those experiences, he has gained skills as a videographer and video editor. He has used his knowledge of creative tools such as Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Audition to make and produce videos and audio projects. He is also adept in his knowledge of lighting, audio recording, and audio editing. Mark Drinkard currently lives in Chattanooga TN as he attends college. Photography is a passion of his and the rural landscapes offer a great backdrop to find and make photos. His goal is to provide a voice to everyone and use his skills to tell the stories of the voiceless. For questions, collaboration or to hire Mark Drinakard, contact him at markdrinkard2@gmail or (865)407-3317

Nessa Parrish is the Editor for Rising Rock and is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a highly adaptable and dedicated individual with over 10 years of videography experience. She seeks to highlight and document the stories of individuals whose stories deserve attention through visual storytelling. Contact her at Nessaparrish@gmail.com

Kalie Shaw is an audio editor based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She works primarily editing podcasts but also has recently begun work as a sound producer on a short film. In her free time, Shaw likes to cuddle with her cat Clementine, enjoy a nice cup of coffee and discover her new favorite podcast. View her portfolio and reach out to her on her webpage, https://kalieshaw.myportfolio.com/

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