Today is the day! It’s finally here. Although if it were a year ago, my sense of peace and serenity in this moment would be a little easier, not slightly clouded by a thought that something could go wrong. The first day of school.
Even as thoughts of possible COVID situations appear like unwanted wasps circling my head, I have been laser focused on this day for weeks, the day when one very important part of all our lives returns to some semblence of a different kind of normal. In-person school.
The pros and cons have been considered. The school plan studied, questioned and verified, giving weight to the decision to send our son back to school where he was a once thriving student who loved to learn. The year feels like the freshest start we have ever needed after months of home/online school, a dearth of activities to keep us occupied over the summer months, and spending altogether too much time together in close quarters.
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Friday and Starbuck’s is nearly empty, a half dozen tables moved to the front of the store with chairs stacked on top, denote we are living in a new time. It’s chilly (for August) and raining but the three meagerly spaced tables outdoors, under the eave of the building are occupied with the die hard coffee and wifi borrowing devotees who need to be in the vicinity of a coffee shop to write. Today, I am one of them as I wait while my dad undergoes a quick procedure at the hospital before he is released back out into the world. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go in with him because – COVID.
But sitting here writing in a once bustling shop is a starker reminder of the unusual times we are living in. Weirder than masking up to grocery shop and go to work. There are no tables of early morning seniors or students or business people having a quick early meeting over a cup. The tables aren’t full of writers or readers or others just needing a quick escape from home. This particular Starbucks carries noise in perpetual motion around the room from front to back, side to side, but no conversations are bouncing back to me today. Just the peripheral vision of masked customers waiting 6 feet apart for their name to be called. A quick pick up and run.
School is on my mind these days because I have a rising eighth grader and the memories of a chaotic spring semester of online schooling from home are whirling back to me. What is school going to look like this year? Will there be sports (probably not), will there be a regular school day (probably not), will there be a return to a teen social life (probably not) – or a parent social life?! We are grinning and bearing it as best we can but the teen hasn’t been out of my vicinity (except when I do my fifteen hours a week at my job) since mid-March and I think we both need a break. COVID has changed so much for all of us but we still have each other and the instincts to keep going on regardless, day after day. We are resilient, thank God.
I can’t help but wonder what our country would be like today if we had a different leader who could have given us some real guidance in the time of this pandemic. I will leave it at that as I shy away from political commentary here. The thing I am grateful for is that I only have to worry about today. Sitting here, enjoying a coffee, retrieving my dad from the hospital and getting him back to his loved ones. Life is still good. Weird but good.
It’s been a while since I’ve published a blog post and even though I say “published” I may as well say attempted too. In the time of Coronavirus I may have run out of things to say. If like me, your days have turned into a perpetual Groundhog Day, you know what I’m talking about. What is there to say about the waking up, brushing teeth and doing eight other things, the same ones you did yesterday. Actually, it’s not as bad as I make it seem and one bright spot in my last month was that my dad was visiting me. He has slowed down quite a bit since turning eighty last December but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of help we would need to get around our house. He fell on his first day here and it was then I realized how fragile he’d become. But with a cane and someone’s crook of an elbow, it was manageable.
A few weeks into the quarantine, we decamped to our Florida home to ride out the remainder of the school year away from upstate New York. The weather was about to get the best of us with snow into late April and the feeling of being shuttered in our home, unable to get out to breath in some fresh air, was making our son drift into depression. Why not go where sunshine and warm temperatures would allow us to be outdoors while still maintaining our social distance? We are lucky and blessed to have this option.
When the word slow rolls off my tongue, I can’t help but feel it is a very weird word. Some words are like that for me. It makes me think of a sloth, slow and sleepy, dangling from a branch high above the Costa Rican rain forest. I was disappointed not to see one up close when we were there a couple years ago but apparently they don’t do much more than hang from the upper branches of very tall trees. And surprisingly they are very good swimmers (though with how long it must take them to get to a body of water it would be a wonder they swim at all).
When WordPress did away with their daily writing prompts in May of 2018, I was very sad as were many of my fellow bloggers. I started writing in 2016 as a way to process my days of early recovery from alcoholism and without it, I might still be drinking today. Pouring out my experience here, helped get me through a very hard time. But after a few months when I was starting to feel better and wanted to write about other things, the daily prompt was great inspiration. It helped me think about things I hadn’t thought of in years whether it was happy, sad, weird or just a string of a memory. It enabled me to discover other writers too, as the the post for the prompt catalogued all those who participated.
Recently I have been thinking of the defining times of my life. The big events that mark a time and place where I remember exactly what was happening around me as the world was changing. The first big one was the Challenger explosion. I was a senior in high school in January 1986 and we were gathered around the lone television in the school library which sat on a tall media cart. By today’s standards, it was a small, boxy television and we were all trying to get a good look at the very first civilian to go into space, Chris McAuliffe, a teacher we all might aim to be someday. And then it exploded and someone quickly went to the front of the room and the box went dark. We sat in silence, not believing what had just happened. How could it be? A moment that was much anticipated had been over in a disastrous instant.
And then of course, there was 9/11 which put that moment of national disaster into perspective as we learned more with each moment that passed, what felt like the longest day of our collective lives. I was driving into work and pulling into a parking spot just as the first plane hit. I worked in the newsroom of the local daily paper and was in the habit of listening to talk radio as many of us did back then. The host broke in to tell us about the plane but he thought it might have been an accident, a one off where the pilot made a grave error due to a medical emergency. And then we found out it wasn’t an accident. There were more planes and the death toll rose as the days passed. I managed to walk into work that morning but I don’t recall getting anything done. My boss, the Editor, rallied everyone around to take charge of our coverage of the event and I did my small part and made sure these reporters and editors who had come in that day to cover a primary election race that was not to happen, were well fed as they worked the local angles of the events unfolding. I spent the day reading wire reports and watching the news on various televisions placed throughout the vast room. And then I went home and like a zombie, feeling helpless and numb about what was happening around us, watched the non-stop coverage of the events. People jumping out of windows, flames pouring from buildings, and finally the buildings themselves crumbling to the ground.
But this is different. There was not one event we can point to and collectively mourn together. Many of us do not even know what this silent enemy is going to do by the time it is all over. How many will come to the brink of death? How many will die? How many will be forever be marked by this anxious, uncertain time for years to come? How many do not even take it seriously yet when we are several weeks into a pandemic that is spreading it’s invisible poison among us? Who has it, we silently ask ourselves as we try to carry on as if life hasn’t changed in every way around us. What is still yet to come? The only hope we have is our resilience. That we can come back from hard times as our ancestors have done throughout time. We are not being asked much. We are not being asked to go behind enemy lines. We are not being asked to board trains to an uncertain death. We are simply being asked to stay put and keep this invisible enemy from spreading. We are being asked to amuse ourselves which is no small task given that we have become used to a freedom that has been earned by the people who have gone before us. Let’s do our part now so that we can get back to life as we once knew it.