Keys to Coping

Child's drawing of Earth with text about Covid
Collage and text missing a feeling of safety
Drawing and text about things missed during pandemic
Postcard message reflecting on the pandemic experience

The pandemic began just about a year ago. During this time, I have collected hundreds of post cards from adults and children giving first-hand accounts of their experiences with quarantine, wearing masks and social distancing.

When the world changed, my wife and I were touring the country with a community engagement art project, The Keys to Our American Dreams through our non-profit The Key Idea. This very hand-on project offers people the opportunity to share their big ideas with art and drawing using the metaphor of a key. It reveals the optimism in a community and our common human goals and dreams for security, opportunity and love.

We were almost halfway into our five-month tour when plans abruptly changed.

As we drove from California to Massachusetts we talked about what the future would bring and how folks would deal with the closing of schools and businesses, cancellations of events and even how Americans would take to wearing masks. Looking back, we really had no idea what we were in for.

We had time to think during the drive and a new community project idea developed. Shortly after arriving home, I offered people an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings in a postcard project called Keys to Coping. I believe it is important to document this historic time with first hand accounts of life during a pandemic. I was well positioned to manage and share postcards through my existing website; so I announced the project through social media and email. In June, Keys to Coping was featured in a “Dear Annie” advice column in numerous American newspapers and the word spread.

Since April, hundreds of people from all over the country, have sent hand written postcards, letters, and emails. Children and adults shared their pandemic experiences of both sadness and loneliness as well as unexpected joys and discoveries. They wrote about uncertainty, things they miss from their previous “normal” life, and challenges of managing remote school and work. At first the cards reflected sadness and worry. As time passed, people looked for and found goodness- spending time with family, sharing what they have with others, helping in their communities and donating their stimulus checks to people who needed it more than they do.

I have postcards in the beautiful script of the very elderly, quick sketches by adults, the insights of teens and postcards with the charm of early writers. It’s a different way to see the effects of the pandemic, through the eyes of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary challenges. If they shared their address, I wrote back to them. It was so heartwarming to correspond with people I don’t know, especially about meaningful things.