Reflections on The Stand: COVID, Graduation, and Personal Growth




Before me sit two copies of The Stand, a post-apocalyptic novel of gargantuan proportions by horror-master Stephen King. Both of my copies are tattered mass market paperbacks, and both have heavily cracked spines, and pages that fall out if I am not careful about handling them.


One copy is the original from 1978, clocking in at 817 pages, and the other is the “Complete & Uncut” rerelease from 1990, finishing at 1141 pages.


For those who have read the book, you will likely know why it has been on my mind as much as it has been lately. The Stand is a story of heroes and villains who rise amid a viral pandemic created by a government experiment gone wrong; the experiment in this case being a bioweapon that manifests in people with flu-like symptoms before killing off 98% of the world’s population, which is itself explicitly due to governmental mismanagement.


Sound familiar?


Like most people, I wasn’t really sure what 2020 would bring, but I never thought what has happened would happen. Even though our pandemic hasn’t been nearly as close to King’s fictional one, I still cannot help but think of this story now, and the feelings I felt once COVID began to spread throughout the world.

Image Caption: Pages of The Stand falling out, along with its younger brother, held together by Scotch tape


The feeling I recall most was uncertainty.


There was a mix of feelings stirring in the pit of my stomach when I first heard the news we would be shutting down. There was some fear over what would happen next, some hope that the situation wouldn’t be as bad as experts were predicting, even mild happiness at the thought I might get some time to focus on writing a novel I had been planning for some time. Yet it was mostly uncertainty.


I lost my job twice in 2020, once in mid-March when the pandemic truly began to ramp up, and once again last week as COVID-positive cases began to skyrocket in Nevada once more, mere weeks from graduation.


Class continued, entirely online, and I never got to say goodbye to some people who had come to mean the world to me. I wouldn’t be graduating until the Fall 2020 semester, and many of my friends were graduating in the spring of that year.


The end of classes came, COVID got worse, and my favorite professor, whom I had grown extremely close with over my years as an undergrad, passed away in the summer from COVID-19.

The mix of feelings grew darker, and heavier as seasons changed, a birthday came and went, spent alone, and summer turned toward fall.


Depression began to roll over me in unending waves, and I was scrambling for air.


I was back at work by the time classes began for what would be my last semester before graduation. Even though hours were severely reduced, I felt a little better being back out in the world once more, even if it did mean routine COVID tests and social distancing.


Almost all of my classes were online and asynchronous, meaning that there wasn’t going to be a set discussion time. No zoom meetings to substitute human interaction of in-person classes. Even with a few hours of work per week, I was beginning to feel even more isolated than I had before.


Depression set in a little deeper.


Sometimes you have to look from the bottom to see how high you really were.


Every day my actions remained unfocused, and unclear, lacking direction or guidance of any kind. I could not shake the feeling that what should have been a joyous and momentous time in my life just wasn’t shaping up to be anything at all. I was beginning to feel less like I was doing anything at all and more like I was just going through the motions. It was as if I was trying to get to the end rather than seek a new beginning of post-graduation life.


And as the end came closer and closer, uncertainty turned to angst, angst turned into sleepless nights, and sleepless nights became another part of the downward spiral consuming my life with each passing day. I want to say it was like walking a tightrope, with the quickening abyss below and light just on the other side, but this isn’t exactly true. It was more like walking a tightrope in the dark, unsure of which direction I was going.


I could not shake the feeling that what should have been a joyous and momentous time in my life just wasn’t shaping up to be anything at all.

Eventually, I reached a point where I felt like the only way out was to take the dive and see what happens. I believe it was Nietzsche who once quipped that if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. That was closer to how I was beginning to feel than anything else I had come across at that point.


My writing began to take on similar tones. Poetry that might have once been about someone I had feelings for became stories of the damned, of insomniacs destined to live alone in rainy cities of endless night for all of eternity, only being able to catch glimmers of happiness somewhere far away. Even for a horror writer, I was reaching levels of self-degradation and silent suffering that shouldn’t have been possible.


It wasn’t until reaching that point that I began to look around for what I still had, and what opportunities I had to look forward to in life.


The characters of The Stand made the most of what they had, and then some.


Obviously the COVID pandemic isn’t quite on the level of the fictional scenario presented in The Stand, yet I believe there is a lesson to be learned from the characters’ collective struggle with the circumstances forced upon them.

Once the damage is done and survivors are all that remain, they do the only thing that they can do: they rebuild.


In the face of insurmountable odds, there were men and women who managed to make their stand against the evils of the world and survived in spite of it. I took comfort in King’s words, and in his characterizations of people and situations. They felt realer than real at a time when I needed them most.


In their perseverance, I found strength. That is the power of this book for me.


The novel acts as a parable for the human spirit among many other things, in a similar vein of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps more importantly than that, the novel let me in on a secret of human nature that I made me feel a bit better about my own circumstances:


It’s okay to not have the answers.


Light spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.


Still with me? Good, because this part is important. The final words of The Stand are just that: I don’t know.


Those words were huge for me in a way that I cannot quite describe. After a thousand plus pages of uncertainty, of angst, of sorrow, of heartbreaks and the occasional triumph, the hero didn’t have the answer to the final question posed to him, conveniently one about human nature and war. If Stu Redman (one of The Stand’s central characters) didn’t know, then maybe it was okay that I didn’t know either.


The world continues to turn, and the culmination of our lives does not always have to be something tangible. It is okay to be survivors looking for an answer they might not find right away.


It is okay to not know.


For me, this revelation was the result of months under a depressive episode, and the realization that I was not as alone as I thought I was at any given moment.

In a week or so, I will submit my final assignment before completing my degree program, and next semester will be the first in many years that I will not be a college student. I will not walk across a stage to accept a diploma, nor will I share in the moment with others who have struggled through something similar.


The last day I left work before losing my job (again), there was a different feeling in the air. There was a mutual understanding among those of us who had been through it once before. This wasn’t necessarily an end, nor did it have to be, but a new beginning.


The last day I left work before losing my job (again), there was a different feeling in the air. There was a mutual understanding among those of us who had been through it once before. This wasn’t necessarily an end, nor did it have to be, but a new beginning.


---


It’s just after midnight on December the 2nd, and news is breaking on Twitter that the UK has approved a vaccination for COVID-19. While there is no telling what will happen next, the air certainly feels different now than it did months ago.







About the Author


Originally from New Jersey, Shane moved to Las Vegas to start his college career. He has now entered his last semester at UNLV and will be receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English and Professional Writing. Shane has also obtained an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice (with high honors), and has written several novels, two of which have been published.











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