COVID-19 Oral Histories – Monika Johnston
For the past few weeks, Packer’s Upper School History Club has been working on an oral history project that documents the Packer community’s experience with COVID-19. Through 30 minute interviews with various people in the community, we have been recording people’s feelings, thoughts, and stories about this global pandemic. In addition to posting select parts of the interviews to the Prism website in both transcript and video form, we are also archiving these interviews at the Brooklyn Historical Society so that we can keep a visual and written record of these testimonies for the future generations. As for now, we hope this project is a way for people to stay connected and share their unique personal stories. Each week, new interviews will be posted, so keep coming back to learn more about your classmates’, teachers’, and colleagues’ experiences during this difficult and unusual time. We hope you enjoy!
-The Leaders of History Club: Sadie Sadler, Amelia Killackey, and Nick Yohn
Monika Johnston: Upper School History Teacher and Head of the History Department
Interviewed by: Sadie Sadler
Q: Thank you for sending in some of the pictures you took during this pandemic. Can you talk a bit about the pictures and why you took them?
A: Yeah, I, ya know, I had been intentional about trying to get out at least every other day to get some exercise, and usually I’m going into, to the park, I like to go look at the flowers, I like to go see how spring has, ya know, just evolved since the last time I’ve been to the park. Um, the day I took those pictures, I decided to walk in the opposite direction. I really hadn’t, I hadn’t spent, spent much time actually in my neighborhood. And it wasn’t quite clear to me, what stores were open, what was life like actually out in the neighborhood, so I, I took those pictures on a walk, ya know, where I might walk down, just to, to go to the pharmacy, or go to the supermarket, or go to the restaurants that I used to like to go to, and see, well what’s going on there. And what I discovered was that there were more places open, that, than I thought, and they were open in a particular way, they were open and closed at the same time. So they were closed to foot traffic, but open for, um, ya know, takeout and delivery, so that the, their whole business model has, has shifted. To see the employees at Starbucks setting out a table, where their masked, and taking orders on the street! I mean like that’s just wild! Right, and then, like, those little, little moments when you walk down the street and somebody has bothered to put up a sign-“stay positive”-like there are these little punctuations everywhere. Like if you’re, if you really look for them, ya know, there’s a lot of crappy stuff that’s happening and, ya know, people that don’t always, haha ya know, do the best thing, and they’re not always acting out of a place of love and kindness. But, there’s a lot of people who are, and they’re, they’re doing these little things, they’re doing what they can do. And you see, I saw that, in the ways in which the different stores had, had someone, ya know, put, paint new signs that were positive, or, or put up new LCD signs, ya know, that, that had these supportive messages, like “we’re in this together,” “we’re here for you,” ya know, and it was just, it was just New Yorkers at their best sometimes. Ya know, which is really lovely, so it was, I didn’t see flowers, but I saw, um, these lowly moments of life, the neighborhood trying to come back to life.
Q: Has COVID-19 altered the way you think about friendship, family, and community?
A: Well, I mean, I think, you know, any crisis is an opportunity for us to reflect on the people that we rely on the most, and that we care about the most, because, ya know, we’re facing something that is really deadly and frightening, and, um, I think, more broadly, um, w-we need each other, we need our networks of friendship, and even when, ya know, strangers come together, I’ve met people through Zoom media, or the-the medium of Zoom, where, ya know, it’s just, people are coming together because we need to be together, and we need to provide support to one another, so, friendship, family, um, even opening yourself up to new relationships, and new interactions, is really important during a crisis. So yeah, family, ya know, we-we depend on one another, we love one another, support one another, that’s where your primary support is going to be. And when you see, ya know, how, structures, larger structures, larger institutions, a-are not always, wh-when-, they cannot always fill fulfill their responsibilities or our expectations of them, and it’s family and friends that we look to help us get through.
See more of Ms. Johnston’s interview in the video below: