It wasn’t long into the COVID-19 pandemic that the tone of television commercials changed. Companies wanted viewers to know that they applauded health care heroes, that they were doing everything they could for our safety, that they were there for us “during these unprecedented times.” Most of those commercials are gone now, replaced with ads that would fit right into what we started calling the “before times” just a few weeks after “COVID-19” became a household word. We have a short attention span when it comes to crises. But we haven’t gone back to the before times, not yet, not by a long shot, and I doubt we ever will. COVID-19 will always be with us; any chance we ever had of eradicating it before it became endemic evaporated with too many people reluctant to take vaccines or wear masks to protect their neighbors, even if they did not feel particularly at risk. Maybe that chance was an illusion anyway. Maybe the world never could have manufactured and distributed sufficient vaccine quickly enough to stop a disease that spreads through the air in a small-world era in which people and goods can travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours. The fact that some people wouldn’t try? Let’s just say that this has done nothing to improve my cynical view of human nature. It has also made me worry about my children, coming of age at a time when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. Their worlds — from elementary school to college to jobs — collectively shut down over about 48 hours in mid-March 2020, and none of them are yet back to what they were. What will be the new normal for them? What will be the fault lines between what Caroline and Frank, both in their 20s, and Teresa, now 11, remember and think of as normal? None of them remember the world as it was before 9/11; the attack happened two weeks after Caroline started preschool and when Frank was a baby. I saw it on the news while I was spoon-feeding him breakfast in his highchair. As of Sept. 11 this year, the U.S. had lost more than 655,000 people to COVID-19. For their families and those who loved them, the loss is incalculable. There is no going back. I pray for my children and for those who have died and those who love them, for those who work in hospitals and grocery stores and delivery services. I pray for all of us who are tired, so tired, of every day being an exercise in balancing risks. One day, I hope, we’ll see this is as history. I hope we tell the young people who don’t remember what it was like, and marvel that there are so many who don’t remember what they did when everything changed.