I adopted my first child the same year my mother died. The dichotomy of those two events drove home the lesson that two completely opposite feelings—profound grief and wondrous joy—can exist side by side in one’s heart. One sometimes elbowed the other out of the way, but both dwelled there together, uneasy neighbors with little in common.
Fast-forward to 2020, and I learned the lessen anew.
When society shut down one year ago this week, I was gripped by a tremendous anxiety about the future. I feared how this unknown virus would affect my family, our health, our income. We bought groceries and toilet paper like survivalists and hunkered down in our house to try and ride it out without knowing how long the ride would be. When we had to venture out, we encountered shuttered restaurants, vacant parking lots, empty roads.
There were no friendly exchanges with fellow shoppers in store lines or with hard-working cashiers. People averted their eyes as if that would help them avoid the invisible, infectious miasma spreading across the earth. The surreal hush of a Saturday without people was a loud shout in the quiet stillness.
At home, my husband, two college students, one high school student, and I scrambled to find workspaces where we would not be on top of each other during Zoom meetings and Google classes. We stopped eating out, seeing friends, going to movies. We lived through days upon days of cancellations: conferences, spring breaks, a track season, a niece’s wedding, birthday celebrations. We baked bread as if to feed our apprehension and made jokes about what the 19 in Covid19 really stood for. My father was hospitalized twice with non-Covid illnesses and had to endure his stays in isolation. He was hundreds of miles away, but even if I lived next door to the hospital, the result would have been the same. He might as well have been on Mars.
New words and phrases peppered our conversations: asymptomatic carriers, viral load, flatten the curve, quarantine, social distancing, you’re muted. We discovered you could attend meetings, weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and doctors’ appointments via the internet. We followed Room Rater on Twitter and learned what makes a good Zoom background. It became odd to see shows where people stood too close. I had anxiety dreams of being in a crowd without my mask.
We were lucky and the worst did not happen for us, even as all around us numbers soared. People got the virus—some suffered tremendously, some less so, and others would never have known they had it if not for testing. People died. Doctors and nurses worked to exhaustion. And sometimes they died. I read articles that made me cry. I sent condolences to friends who lost loved ones and sent good health wishes to those who caught it themselves.
But while it was a hard year, there were gifts, like snowdrops in January.
As the seasons changed, the sun warmed the air and coaxed the buds to emerge in this strange new world. The bright days called us out to walk and witness the slow transformation from fallow winter to fecund spring.
The virus cleared my calendar of events as quickly as it cleared the grocery store shelves of toilet paper, and, while there were things I sorely missed, I also found some peace in the wide spaces that were left.
I was grateful my kids were home even when, at times, our togetherness rubbed together like flint and steel, causing sparks to flare. I was glad they were with me even when I grieved for what they were missing.
I delighted in the balcony concerts musicians played for neighbors or at-home jam sessions for their fans. I appreciated the creativity and hard work it took to continue to produce the news that kept us informed and the shows that kept us entertained.
A writing association I belong to began having Zoom writing dates that plunged me into a pool of fresh knowledge and a flurry of new friends.
A group of adoptive moms who I have known through email and Facebook for two decades began using Zoom and Marco Polo to chat. It was a pleasure to hear their voices and see their expressions when for years, we conducted all communication through a keyboard.
Every year has its ups and downs, but 2020 took us for a wild ride. The one year anniversary is upon us and vaccinations are being given by the thousands. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. We look back and see the dark days, but also the rays of sun. Two things occupying one space. A snowdrop unfurling from frosted earth.
Footnote: I started writing this as a funny blog post about things I missed from Before the Pandemic but then two things happened: I came across a news story of a little girl in my town who burst into tears in her online class because she was so hungry. And someone I know told me about how much the economic hardship the pandemic has thrust upon them is stressing them out. I no longer felt like laughing. If you are reading this and you are in a position to help, perhaps you can take a moment to check with your local charities and see what people in your community need. While things are more hopeful for many of us, they are still dire for some. Thank you for reading.