“To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision, had we clarity
to see it – a clarity that men
depend on men to make.”
– The Mad Farmer Manifesto: The First Amendment
Right now, I should be in Terminal A in Logan. Perhaps I would be traversing that long tunnel, lit by colored lights and sped by moving walkways, with man’s triumph over gravity taking off and landing overhead – the sky a checkerboard of contrails. Maybe I’d be stopping at the Starbucks at the end of the long staircase up to the gates. I’d be with Adam. Grey and Thane would be in flight already, headed to Atlanta. It was to be the first time that Grey counted as “accompaniment” and I wouldn’t have to pay extra to fling them into the loving arms of a grandparent. Adam and I would be looking towards an ancient land. Tomorrow morning, bleary eyed, we would land in Rome to celebrate the twenty years we have been married.
But. I will not stand in the Forum Sunday, drinking in espresso and diesel fumes in equal measure. We will not explore the catacombs or marvel at the rococo splendor of the Vatican. We will not see works by Michelangelo and eat pasta made by strong-armed old women, decanting wine and prayers with equal familiarity. Instead, we mark a time increasingly trackless, as we enter our fifth week spent in our homes, morally isolated, masked, in a world we would not have recognized even two months ago. We’re growing weary of gazing at the world through the windows – of our homes, our computers, our televisions. Every vista is framed in by the constraints of the virus.
This all has started to feel almost…. normal. There are mornings I wake up, and don’t think I’m late for the bus. There are days I do not leave the house, and do not mark that I have not left. There are even cheerful days and hours now, where within the inscribed circle of my life I am pleased and even energetic. But every time I find my feet, an aftershock ripples through and reminds me how uncertain and unstable everything really is right now. Layoffs among my friends. Plans for returns two years out. Closings. Deaths. Intubations. Work shifted, changed, urgent or deprioritized. Rumor of pending shortages, as the people who make things and grow food also look through their windows at untended fields and idle factories. My daily ritual is looking at the numbers and ages of those who have died today in Massachusetts from the virus. Yesterday there was an entire page of deaths of people in their 80s, and a second almost as long of people in their 90s.
I’ve tried not to mark what I’ve missed. I delete the calendar entries, trying to forget what has been lost. Del’s funeral, and the beer I planned with my surviving cousins to remember the one who died this fall. Piemas. I have so many pie fillings in the freezer, marked for that date. My children do not like pie. And we were going to remember BJ there. My husband did a “virtual gaming convention” last week, and I kept thinking I heard him over the speaker – where he most assuredly would have been had his heart not given out. I had finagled traveling to Dublin for training. I’d never been to Dublin. Two concerts: Brandy Clark and the Wailin’ Jenny’s. My son had shown astonishing proactivity in signing up for an MIT educational course, which made me proud and hopeful. His 8th grade graduation and dance are added to the pile of “unknown but unlikely”. And we are the lucky ones – we don’t have a senior, or a wedding, or a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Or worse, a farewell and funeral denied and delayed.
Last week, I was talking to my sister and telling her my idea for one of those online quizzes, of your “lasts”. Last in person concert. Last flight. Last conference. Last meal in a restaurant. Last hike. Last night in a hotel. Last road trip. Last in person church service. I’ve held these lasts in my head. Some of them I knew were lasts – the last hike and last meal. But most were unmarked, and felt like part of the relentless pressure of life, piling on event after event and journey upon journey. I did wish that I could step off that relentless track – just for a little bit. I’m trying to be grateful for what is, at very least, a break.
And there are some consolations. I think few of us would prefer this life to our prior one. But I have spent more time with my husband and children than I ever would have, in any other circumstance. There has been more space for thoughts, despite work which swells to eat my extra hours. I’ve had breakfast in bed every morning for a month. I have cleaned things that I always meant to get to “someday soon”. I have watched every single slight move of spring with the hungry eyes of a hawk looking for their prey to clear cover. Have the forsythia and daffodils and hyacinths ever had so appreciative an audience? Have they ever lingered so long? And I am taking great comfort in art – old and new. My gaze has lingered over the watercolors on my walls, painting detail and adventures into their broad strokes. My mind has lingered on poetry, with the extra space resonating words and phrases with unusual meaning. My ears have sought new songs and new singers. And although I am not with my friends, we talk. Via group chats, 1:1s, video calls, yelling from windows – even as we are distanced we still reach out to each other.
There is no chance that we will emerge from this time unchanged. It is not an option. We cannot go back to being who we were, or living the way we did. Even if the world were miraculously the same, we are inexorably changed. What will we be, when we have been transfigured? How will we grow, with the snow on our blossoms? Will we be destroyed, or made stronger? Will we ever be so busy again we cannot see the spring around us? Will we be able to take thing so for granted? We are in a crucible, and our civilization is being melted. We can only hope – and work – to make sure that when we are recast, we are recast to be the best version of humanity we can possibly be.