May 2020 ushers in the second month of Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Along with the nation, the Milwaukee community has stepped into another world and pre-pandemic life can at times seem like a faded memory.

The pandemic has forever changed our lives, our neighborhoods, and our nation. We collectively yearn for the return to “normal,” which was never all that great. In comparison, there is a comfort in the familiar. As this “new normal” stretches on, it too fulfills a level of familiarity, but perhaps offers little comfort.

The COVID-19 crisis has robbed us of friends, family, experiences, and economic stability. There are always periods of life when we look back with nostalgia, especially as we age and see the glow of youth slip away. We feel that loss and accept the bitter reality of what will never be. There are many intangible things that have been lost to us because of the coronavirus, and their absence underscores a time that was often taken for granted.

These images were taken in Milwaukee during the month of May from past years. The collection shows what May 2020 could have been if not for the pandemic’s arrival. Many of the pictures are from annual events that have long historic and cultural traditions, like Memorial Day. Others simply embrace gatherings that could finally occur in warm weather.

After being mentally conditioned to the physical detachment social distancing these many weeks, viewing the photos can seem very peculiar. Faces are not covered, hands are bare, people are assembled in a plentiful mass who think nothing of being so close together. By contrast it seemed like a more simple time, but it was not. It was just a time when we had the chance to share our humanity together, and more freely. It was when we could still show our compassion with a hug.

The scenes represented in the pictures are unthinkable now, and for a time to come. Viewing them could stir a mix of emotions for many people, but if we are brave we can look between the lines at what those recorded memories tell us. We can take stock in what has been lost, and decide what value there is in returning to our idea of normal.

During that introspective process, our focus should not be on filling the holes in order to smooth out a flat existence like before. Instead, we could build new elevations to ensure that our future rises up to meet our dreams.

© Photo

Lee Matz

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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