It seems a bit odd to me, this month, that I haven’t read many commemorations of the third anniversary of the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all remember March of 2020, right?
Or maybe not, at times, because memories of trauma tend to find a way to hide in the back hallways and dark corners of our minds. But other times, when the calendar turns, they spill out.
I had started the month in Seattle, in my “real job” at the time, welcoming thousands of people to Children’s Film Festival Seattle, which I had directed for the past 15 years for Northwest Film Forum.
The Beachcomber was my sideline, a 15-hour-a-week job, a way to keep on top of what was going on in my community. I started doing this job in 2008, then took a break between 2013 and 2018, and then come back because I couldn’t stay away — I loved it so much. And why not? Looking back on it, it was incredibly easy work.
I didn’t have a reason to believe it wouldn’t go on like that forever — hopping back and forth between the Seattle film scene and covering the local arts scene for Vashon’s community newspaper.
My 2020 festival in Seattle opened to packed houses on Feb. 27, and I remember threading my way through the crowds, saying “excuse me, excuse me,” touching strangers’ arms or backs lightly, clearing my way as I tried to get from one screening to the next.
But there was this new thing called COVID that everyone was quietly talking about.
Our projectionist at the Forum had locked himself up in the projection booth, doing something we had already started to call “doom-scrolling,” and occasionally I’d pop in to see that he was finding out. It wasn’t good.
And by March 5, we decided we needed to shut the festival down — immediately — and I walked out the door of the Forum, into the night on Capitol Hill, never to work in the building again.
I had a job to do on Vashon, after all: There was an incredible amount of news that needed to be reported. There was no toilet paper in our grocery stores, for one thing, right?
Somewhere in the exact middle of March, our editor at the time mused that we consider writing something other than COVID stories.
“Every story is a COVID story now,” I said.
And on March 25, all of the newsroom staff was furloughed from The Beachcomber, with the exception of reporter Paul Rowley, whose hours were cut.
From my living room, on the phone, I promised to help Paul, and I did. My job was restored about eight weeks later.
The news kept coming, and it was all about, well, how our town had changed, almost overnight.
But somehow, our weekly newspaper kept being printed, thanks to the efforts of real heroes — Paul, Daralyn Anderson, our publisher, and Patricia Seaman, our administrator.
Somehow, in that disorienting time, when our community needed reliable news more than ever, this amazing skeleton crew kept the paper alive.
Fast forward to March of 2023, and I’ve been the editor of the paper for about two years now, and for the last seven months, I’ve been the only employee in the newsroom. And Daralyn and Pat are still holding down the front office, still taking us across the finish line of going to press every week.
It touches me how islanders have rallied around The Beachcomber — the support this enterprise has received from talented local writers and organizations, most especially, VashonBePrepared.
This has become a true community effort, and in my role as editor, I’ve been stretched to become a much better journalist and I hope, a much more thoughtful community member.
Like you, I’ve been through a lot. And so as difficult as it is to look back now, I can’t help myself. I need to understand, at times, how we all got from March 2020 to March 2023.
The virus that suddenly emerged in 2020 changed us all. COVID, since March 2020, has now killed more than 1 million Americans.
But if you are reading this, you’re still here, somehow. And I’m here, your newspaper’s editor, holding down the fort in the newsroom.
I’ll see you next week, in another issue of the paper. April’s almost here.
— Elizabeth Shepherd