Dear Elana by Elana Burack

Dear Elana of April 2020,

Thank you for your email. To be honest, I forgot that I had created a COVID time capsule, and even when I saw the email appear in my Inbox, it took me a moment to remember what it was I was actually looking at:

Dear Elana of April 2022,

Congratulations on cracking open your COVID 19 Time Capsule! Get ready for a wild ride back in time.

Enclosed please find the following items:

  • Photo of empty grocery store shelves → because who knows when we’ll be able to go to the store again safely so let’s buy everything we can now!
  • Photo of Clorox wipes, empty toilet paper roll, and Purell → because these are practically gold right now
  • Screenshot of company-wide email declaring remote status → because “3 weeks of remote work” quickly turned into “remote until we can reevaluate circumstances”
  • Photo collage of weeks 1-5 of quarantine; highlights include:
    • Photo of me in a mask → because this is the hottest fashion trend of the season
    • Zoom screenshots of Shabbat services and virtual social gatherings → because Friday nights look a little different
    • Photo of me eating homemade pita bread → because with nowhere to go, why not?
    • Photos of my oil paintings → because being cooped up in my apartment seemed like a good reason to try something new
    • Books I’ve read → because social functions aren’t a thing, reading is the ultimate night out
  • Photo of journal entry after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic
  • Zeder (Zoom Seder) invitation
  • Link to blog, Elana, But Alone, with posts on Passover by myself:
  • Link to “Chill” Spotify Playlist mostly created in April:
  • Link to Netflix watch history; highlights include:
    • 100 Humans
    • Glow Up
    • Restaurants on the Edge
    • Unorthodox
    • Love is Blind (don’t judge yourself…)
  • Rental car receipt from Operation Rescue Elana → because there’s only one way to get home in a pandemic, and that involves a wrong turn, an Elvis podcast, and an abandoned Virginia airport

At this point in time, it’s impossible for me to imagine what world you’ll be occupying when you read this. I left Philadelphia (and my plants) thinking I’d be returning to my apartment within a month. I’ve been home a week, and I’m starting to doubt the realisticness of my estimate. I guess we’ll see. Wishing you the best and hoping the past two years have been less fearful, more creative, and more joyful.

All my love and wishes for continued health,
Elana of April 2020


Boy how this takes me back. So much has transpired since then — it feels like decades have passed…

A lot of people, including you, experienced some challenges during this time. There were many nights at home that you sat alone in bed and wondered where your life was headed. Despite the fact that you, of all people, were living the best case scenario, you spent a lot of time mourning the life you felt you’d lost — dinner parties and movie nights with close friends crowded around the table in your apartment, Shabbat services with soulful singing and new friends, a capella rehearsals with the group you were just getting to know, going on dates and exploring new parts of the city, and even staff lunches at work and getting to know your co-workers better. Normalcy, in every sense of the word, was lost…

But two years later, I see things a little differently. While the world did indeed lose so much and so many souls that cannot be recovered, I have ultimately come to see this time not so much as a time of loss as a time of gain…or rather of regain. With so much chaos in the world, fear and unknown, there was a certain kind of national recentering on certain simple things in life. Pleasures of the past seemed to regain their prominence.

I remember one early November day in 2020. It was just weeks before Thanksgiving, and I was home quarantining with my family in South Carolina. It was an unusually beautiful fall day, and we decided to spend as much of it as possible outside. For a couple hours, we sat out on the porch, rocking in our chairs, laughing, eating chocolate, and doing some artwork while listening to some Simon & Garfunkel.

Later in the day, while my sister took a Saturday afternoon nap, my dad and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. As many times as I have walked or run the neighborhood loop, I always see things that are new to me. This time was no exception. As we shuffled through the fallen leaves on the street, we paused and pointed, questioning whether the house on the corner had always been that color or had just been painted, admiring the early Christmas lights and large blow-up snowmen hanging out in 70 degree weather, and appreciating the slant of one house or noticing the boxiness of another. We waved at the neighbors walking their dogs and chatted briefly about football with the man in the Clemson sweatshirt. It was a moment in time that I wish I could freeze. Slow. Quiet. Perfect

These moments, of course, never would have happened without The Great Reckoning. But it’s not just the moments themselves — it’s a renewed sense of appreciation for life that continues to permeate every single day.

Almost every day now, I try to take time to slow down and marvel at the wonders of this world. I used to only run, but now I often go for long walks along the Schuylkill or through the quaint streets around Rittenhouse. On cold or rainy days, I try to cook a new dish or work on my guitar playing — something I started a year ago. It seems everyone has a new hobby that they picked up during the pandemic, and it’s cool to see how many of my friends have continued to nurture those skills. One friend started a macaron company back in 2020, and now she’s still going and even has a partnership with Uber. Another friend became a sourdough bread master, and she actually just won second place at the National Festival of Breads. My parents got really into pastels, and now they bring their art supplies on all their trips, settle in a spot, and do art together. Despite the return of the “busyness epidemic,” as I often think of it, I am grateful that we’ve all preserved some space to continue cultivating our newfound creative and domestic outlets

At work, as well, I feel we gained so much more than we lost. As a warning, you have a long stretch of remote work before you, and you might be surprised at how things start to change. In fact, you may not even notice the evolution taking place, but it is. After the quick pivots that every organization had to make time and time again, companies began to see themselves as more resilient. Now, I think a bit surprised by their own successes, employers seem to be more willing to experiment to continuously improve.[1]

For example, the company I work for only requires that we come into work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and the other days are all remote.[2] ‘Requires’ is a bit of an exaggeration though — my co-worker Sandy has been working from the Bahamas for at least 3 weeks now! She started off cashing in on her “A Week Away” benefit and has been gone ever since. The benefit pays for any employee to spend a week in the same city as any other office location around the world so they can check out how it operates, “bond across borders,” and experience a different part of the world.[3] You can take your first one after two years, and I have my eye on our Rome office. Soon enough…

But being in the Philly office really isn’t so bad. Actually, I quite like it. All my meetings are scheduled on days we’re in the office, and I try to leave at least a few hours for quicker, spontaneous rendezvous too. And bonus: we’re allowed to wear more relaxed clothing — “one step above sweatpants and two steps below business casual,” my manager likes to say.

But my absolute favorite part of going into the office is our “Together Tuesdays.” Once a month on a Tuesday, we have a two-hour lunch break for team bonding. They renovated the office this year to include a giant multi-purpose room, and, like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement, it seems to magically transform into whatever we need it to be: a yoga studio, a dance floor, a workshop space, a banquet hall, or even a dodgeball court.[4] I honestly don’t know how they do it sometimes, but our Connective Director is truly fabulous. That’s another thing that didn’t exist a few years ago…

But as silly as it sounds, it’s hard to imagine life any other way than it is now. Quarantine life feels like it was many moons ago, and things feel like they are back to that much-yearned-for, long-awaited, often-dreamt of thing called “normal.”

Gosh, I remember that was all people could talk about. From the bag of new buzzwords like “social distancing,” “unprecedented,” and “now more than ever,” came “the new normal.” What did that even mean? Honestly, I’m not sure.

It feels like all of our lives, we put “normal” on a pedestal — it’s accepted, it’s familiar, it’s non-threatening. It’s automatically given the gold star, the thumbs up, the “pass.” But why do we cling to it so tightly? It’s almost like, despite the 1000% abnormal nature of the circumstances of The Great Reckoning, we collectively just couldn’t bear to admit abnormality to ourselves. Instead, amidst so much “uncertainty” (buzzword #5), we needed to grasp onto some kind of routine, pattern, standard that would allow us to label ourselves and our lives as “normal.” And then, somehow, things would be a little less bad.

But how often — if ever — do we actually scrutinize this so-called “good to go” normal? How do we know if it’s really serving us? And furthermore, what are we missing when we narrowly focus in on what’s “normal”?

American normalcy back then was fraught with divisiveness, materialism, egotism, injustice, and a deep, pervasive loneliness. And yet, we longed to be able to call something — anything — “normal.”

Two years later, I wonder, “Is normalcy really worth striving for?” I would argue no.

Though you could never have known at the time, the world we inhabit today has far surpassed the normal of before. The Great Reckoning pushed us to our absolute limits as a society in so many ways, and we had to inhabit a world which didn’t map onto a standard bell curve. In turn, we learned more than we could have imagined.

A Zoom Thanksgiving reminded us of the treasure that it is to share a meal with the ones we love.

A year and a half of Zoom meetings gave us a window into the lives and families of our co-workers, who we now see as mothers and fathers and daughters and dog owners instead of just “the one who always takes the last donut in the kitchen.”

Saturday nights at home reminded us of the good fun that is putting on an apron and opening up a recipe book.

Remote work showed us that technology enables us to connect in ways we hadn’t imagined without regard for time zones, meeting room reservations, or even attire.

Mask mandates reminded us that the strangers next to us in the grocery store are part of our community, and we need to act like it — whether we’re in a pandemic or not.

Social distancing requirements brought us the return of drive-in movies, picnics, and balcony symphonies, which I am happy to say have stuck around.

And a series of lockdowns reminded us of the simple pleasure that is an afternoon walk around the neighborhood when the sun starts to sink in the sky.

Indeed, we may have lost our “normalcy” in The Great Reckoning, but I think the spirit of learning, of creating, of connecting that we regained has been a blessing.

May we honor those we lost. May we be grateful for what we have in the here and now. And may we never let the pursuit of normalcy limit us.

Hang in there, and make sure to take 501 in the fall. Oh and invest in Pfizer now.


Elana of April 2022

[1] Morgan, G. (1997). Images of Organization. Sage Publications, Inc. (page 91)

[2] Dua, A., Cheng, W., Lund, S., & De Smet, A. (2020, September 23). What 800 executives envision for the postpandemic workforce. McKinsey&Company.

[3] Bernstein, E., Blunden, H., Brodsky, A., Sohn, W., & Waber, B. (2020). The Implications of Working Without an Office. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 5, 2020, from

[4] Bernstein, E., Blunden, H., Brodsky, A., Sohn, W., & Waber, B. (2020). The Implications of Working Without an Office. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 5, 2020, from