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Reliving the Past

When I used to commute an hour each way for work, I would listen to NPR or a podcast. I would find myself zoning out while driving (not a great idea when driving 80mph... 75 mph... the speed limit on the NYS Thruway), and I discovered that listening to a news segment or a podcast kept my attention better than music. (I fly my nerd flag proudly.) There are literally thousands of podcasts available to us these days, and I admittedly only know about a handful.


Radiolab is one of my favorites. If you’re not familiar with Radiolab, it’s a podcast produced by WNYC out of NYC that “explores science, philosophy and mankind's biggest questions”. For me, it’s entertaining, thought-provoking, sometimes humorous, once in a while has made me cry like a baby (not a great idea when driving the speed limit on the NYS Thruway) and has been in production for so many years that I have a couple of hundred episodes to choose from.


A couple of years ago I got the opportunity to work from home full time, so my drive time was seriously curtailed. Also, like so many of us in the last few months, my time in my car has been nothing more than trips to the grocery store and back. Ten-minute trips aren’t conducive to paying attention to (and remembering the details of) an hour plus podcast, so I pretty much stopped paying attention to them. But this past week I had a slightly longer time to spend in the car, and decided to check out what’s been going on in the world of podcasts, and Radiolab in particular.


Apparently, as all good journalists would do, Radiolab has been documenting and recording their experiences during the pandemic. From their first Zoom call with colleagues back in March (“can you hear me?” “did we lose Robert?” “Is everyone here?”) to exploring how life is changing, sharing what they’re preoccupied with (why 6 feet for social distancing? Is herd immunity real? How did we learn that washing our hands gets rid of germs?) listening to this series of podcasts has brought back all the memories of those early days of life in NY at the beginning of the pandemic.


The episode I listened to most recently was about “the 6-foot rule”, how that distance was decided, how air particles travel, and how far. That was recorded in April. They’re beginning to hear stirrings that maybe 6’ isn’t actually far enough. They’ve just learned that singing might spread virus particles farther than previously thought. People are still hearing conflicting...arguments...evidence about face masks. They don’t even know yet if we “climb the mountain” in NY, or how long it will take. They’re going to have to live through the horror of George Floyd’s murder, and all of the terrible political unrest.


And lord help them, those innocent people don’t know about murder hornets, Hurricane Laura, the West Coast burning…


It’s uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy listening to it. It brings up memories I don’t want to relive. It can heighten my anxiety. I’m also kind captivated by it, and I keep scrolling to it. Since it elevates my stress, I’m not sure what is causing this fixation, but I also think it’s important.

It might be too soon to think about, I don’t know – but I feel we need to remember what happened, what we went through, what people in other parts of the country are going through now. And we need to learn from it. Maybe I’ll learn something from it. Something I missed the first time.


It's hard to see the big picture, when you feel trapped in the minutia of every day stress, fear and uncertainty. I’m pretty sure I had a tunnel vision for the entire month of March. I wrote some personal journal entries in March and April that I’ve avoided reading, but maybe it’s time for me to do that. The distance between then and now isn’t so far that I can’t both learn from the past and also change my behavior/thoughts (or at least learn something from them).


I hope the journalists of Radiolab discover something worthwhile in this journey. And maybe they’ll share it with their listeners. I think it’s that hope that keeps me listening. An opportunity to explore the last months from a different perspective – not so terrified, not knowing what’s coming next, day by day.


Maybe I’m looking to find something – if not good, at least not god-awful – from this year so far.

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