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It was supposed to be over long ago. Only a month or two. Then life would be back to normal.

Back to eating in open, pleasantly staffed restaurants. Back to hanging out with family and friends in real life instead of over the internet. Back to sitting at office desks and wearing proper business attire. Back to attending sporting events in person without donning masks and showing proof of vaccinations.

Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on … like a rollercoaster with its ups and downs, bringing out the best in Oregonians. And sometimes the worst.

We laud health-care workers for their skills and endurance amid long hours. Then a few of us turn around and question whether these dedicated medical personnel did all they could to prevent our loved one’s demise from COVID-19.

We finally appreciate that store clerks are essential workers. Yet if a store runs out of goods, some of us turn surly, or worse. We unload our wrath on clerks, expecting them to exert a mystical power that undoes the global supply-chain bottlenecks.

We love being back in eateries and drinking establishments. But some of us ignore the national labor shortage and blame the existing workers if short staffing delays our meal. Indeed, blaming seems ever more popular, pushing aside gratitude.

Amid all this, we give mere lip service to honoring our democracy, as our minds fall victim to loudmouth extremists across the political spectrum.

Yes, we long for a return to normal. But that normal no longer exists, and never will. There is no going back. The pandemic has inexorably altered how we go about our daily lives, from how we shop to how we worship and how we obtain health care.

There is nothing to be gained by pining for the past. But there is room for gratitude. In fact, there is much for which to be thankful, although not always at first glance.

Let us start with the reality that being governor amid a pandemic has proved a thankless job. Yet two dozen men and women already are running in hopes of winning that job. Some are well-qualified, giving Oregonians a wide range of choices among political insiders and outsiders in next year’s elections. There will be change, but how much? As the two main political parties turn ever-more-partisan, will this be the era when Oregonians go independent?

And while the labor shortage has created havoc, the income gap among Oregonians has narrowed a bit. As employers have increased pay, especially at the bottom rungs, workers earning less than $20 an hour are experiencing real economic improvement despite inflation.

Along with an economic reckoning has come a refocus on family. Some employers have adjusted their work requirements and schedules to make them more family-friendly, the jobs more appealing and, ultimately, the workers more productive and loyal. Meanwhile, there is continued progress toward increasing access to decent, affordable childcare throughout the state and the nation, enabling more parents to enter the workforce.

Schools have innovated. Distance learning was difficult for many students and underscored the divide between the broadband haves and the have nots. Yet some students flourished with distance learning, underscoring the need for a rich array of teaching methods.

Health providers have expanded doctor visits by telephone and video, cutting the wait time for many appointments. Yet access to care remains an issue. Vaccines, while imperfect, have proved effective. New medicines may further reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms – if Oregon can get those prescriptions to newly diagnosed patients in time

We could go on and on.

Our resilience has been tested. Our nerves have been frayed. Yet our nimbleness and creativity have been unleashed.

And there’s even a chance that we can learn to be a bit nicer to each other, despite our personal frustrations and political differences. For that, we give thanks.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or @DickHughes.

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