Bookworm: ‘Who We Are Now’ is about you and everyone you know

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Who We Are Now: Stories of What Americans Lost & Found During the Covid-19 Pandemic”

  • By Michelle Fishburne
  • c. 2023, the University of North Carolina Press
  • $25, 229 pages

Check in. Let everybody know you’re okay, so they don’t worry. Make a phone call, send an email or a text, just let them know you’re upright and taking nourishment and you hope they’re the same. Don’t make them wonder; go ahead and reach out. As in the new book “Who We Are Now” by Michelle Fishburne, it’s important today more than ever.

In many ways, 2020 was a massive year of change. It sure was for Michelle Fishburne.

Late in the summer of that year, she “found myself without a house, a spouse, a job, or a kid to take care of ... ” She was in her late 50s and “everything was upside down,” so she moved into an elderly motor home with her dog and waited to see what was next.

“Who We Are Now: Stories of What Americans Lost & Found During the COVID-19 Pandemic” author Michelle Fishburne.

And one day, it hit her: We all went through a certain amount of trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic. How are we all doing now?

To find out, Fishburne turned her home around and headed across America to ask.

In Washington, a response researcher pointed out that most of us figured a “global pandemic was likely to come in our lifetime,” assuming that time would be far away. A mayor in small-town Arkansas watched as the citizens in his town pulled together tightly; others reported fierce support for local small business. People checked on their neighbors, and “did a lot of talking about masks.”

Many Americans, though warned, were “stunned” at the speed at which things were shut down, canceled, or indefinitely postponed, and how weird it all seemed. Some people caught COVID-19 and survived. Others didn’t. Some escaped it – they still wonder how – and some thrived during that time, with better opportunities, more business, new lives, stronger ties.

We were uneasy, if not downright afraid. We were watchful. And we changed

Said a senior living exec in Georgia, “You can’t go through something like that and not be changed.”

For three years now, we’ve divided our lives as B.C. (before Covid) and A.D. (after disease). You’re ready to go back to the way life was, you’re ready to move on. But just wait: first, let “Who We Are Now” show you a different side of the pandemic.

“Who We Are Now: Stories of What Americans Lost & Found During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Michelle Fishburne.

Absent are high-level explanations and technical terms here. Gone is the shouting, mistrust, and arguing. Instead, author Michelle Fishburne lets people just talk in her book. She allows stories to be told, recorded, and heard, accounts filled with relief, heartbreakers, gratitude, and happy tales that are shared with what seems to be a bit of sheepishness. Reading them – seeing such a wide collection in one browseable place – is like swanning through a new-normal-style social gathering, catching fragments of conversation from people just like you, eavesdropping on the most interesting before moving on to the next story.

Readers who believe they’ll never forget the last three years may find “Who We Are Now” comforting in its ordinariness and everyday-people feel, and its lack of divisiveness. This is a book about you and everyone you know. Check it out.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.