Seemingly months later…

A week ago today, I was commuting into work. I was irritated by it – it was already clear that this was going to be a problem and we shouldn’t be packing together on public transit to go into our 3 foot cubicles. But my work was still requiring folks to come in person. That seems like an altogether distant era – a time out of remembrance. But when I packed up that afternoon, in an increasingly quiet office, I took a long moment to look around. I work on the 25th floor with spectacular views from the heart of Boston. From one side, I can look up the Charles to the rising monuments of Kendall Square, and into New England’s soul as marked by the Citco sign. On the other side, punctuated by a steady stream of massive airliners, are the Harbor Islands and placid waters of Boston Harbor. The other two sides are mostly traffic, gazing down to the Blue Hills and up to the Fells.

The Harbor Islands view

I looked at my desk – my hundreds of colored pens, my pictures of my kids, my hilarious and ironic set of “awards” from my coworkers. And I wondered when I would see any of it again. It felt like goodbye. That night I learned the earliest likely date would be April 11th – almost a full month. We will see.

The world has radically changed in the week since that moment. Our kids are home from school. Public places are shuttered. Stores and restaurants are shifting how and when they serve various customers. Every ticket you have to every event is now a broken promise. Hiking trails are packed with people staying six feet apart. All of us are leaning on the internet as a critical lifeline to friends, family and a world outside the shrinking walls of our homes. And we know that for some, this catastrophe is truly catastrophic early. Not just for those who have fallen ill, or who will be soon. But for the economically precarious – suddenly laid off. For the abused trapped now with abusers who are themselves frightened, angry and lashing out. It can feel irresponsible to look for silver linings, especially when the path in front of us is dark and unknown.

But there are silver linings. I will never again get as much quality time with my family as I am getting now. For a month, I will be spending hours of focused, quality time with my teen and tween and husband every day. This was a gift that could not have been purchased in an era where teenage friends were waiting just there. (We also have a functionally infinite supply of board games, which is nice!) The flowering of creativity as people try to figure out how to do the things that are important to them in this era is a joy. I see online concerts, art activities, educational classes and free curriculums sprouting up all over the place. People are experimenting with hundreds of different ways of being together, apart. All of us are learning new tools and new techniques. How may of you have installed a new app, or tried new software, or interacted with something in a new way this last week? I have.

I’ve also seen people really reaching out and caring for others. Packages of chicken soup have been left on my porch. Offerings of errands from people have poured in. Texts and phone calls to see if I’m ok. Prayers. People are really, generally, pretty decent to each other. It’s just that the exceptions get the news coverage.

As we watch the forsythia bloom this strangest of springs, I have hope that we will become our best selves.

I am happy to report that my health is improving. I’m still not 100% (and I’m trying to take it easy), but I seem to be on the way up instead of the way down. Last night, I rested by binge-watching The Great British Bakeoff. I highly recommend this choice. Nothing like the bright colors, the high standards and low stakes, and the delicious looking baking you actually DO have time to attempt to emulate right now as an anodyne for the soul.

The kids are doing pretty well. Thane is dedicating nearly 100% of his learning time to German on DuoLingo. I’m avoiding pointing out that a binging strategy isn’t as effective in language learning. Grey is doing creative writing, and reading “The Stand”. I got some nice company from him when he read a section about a mom dying and then wanted to hang out with me, so that’s nice. We’re pretty glad we got a treadmill a few years ago for winter exercise, especially today which is rather crummy out. And I’m awfully glad to be working at a company doing something to help, even if I’m not on that particular project.

How are things with you?


The young entreprenuer
The young entreprenuer

The news is always depressing, but it seems like it’s been even worse lately. On CNN yesterday, there were five stories above the fold about children who had been hurt, bodies found… horrible things. It makes me want to turn my eyes away from humanity.

Yesterday, a viral video of David Foster Wallace talking about the implacability of adult life crossed into my digital awareness. It is a good video, and it has some good insights about our choices, and the patterns of thought we fall into. But you can hear in it the overarching despair of someone struggling to see the good – even the made-up good – in humanity. It is hard to listen to this without remembering that David Foster Wallace died at his own hand, struggling to the end with a depression as implacable as a ninja assassin. He fought that suicide so long and so hard, and you can hear the fight in his words.

I watched that yesterday. Then I sat back and said to myself, “This is not my reality.” None of this incredibly depressing stuff is. Now, the bad parts of reality have gotten awfully close. The marathon bombings scattered pain to my right and to my left. There’s a guy who used to go to my son’s grade school who is fighting to keep one of his two legs. I’ve shared the story of my friend who ran towards the bombs. (In a surreal moment, she texted the other day asking if I wanted to go to the movies since she got some free tickets for being a first responder. Sadly, I couldn’t.)

But 98% of my life – perhaps more – is full of neat people who are nice, kind and friendly. That part of my reality crystallized for me the other day. Grey had a tough day at school, and I was working from home, so when I got a call saying that he had a tummy ache… well, I picked him up to let him have a quiet afternoon. The quiet bit lasted an hour or two, but then around 4:30 on a beautiful spring day, he decided he wanted to make a lemonade stand. He had done this last year, with varying degrees of success, but came back to the idea. He set up the table, made the signs, priced his offering (reasonably, as opposed to last year).

And they came. The mom in the van who said, “We have set up lemonade stands too, but we live on a cul-de-sac so they don’t usually go very well.” The older woman with lots of makeup and a nice car who talked to him with the yearning of a grandma who doesn’t see her grandkids often, and overpaid. The dad with his two boys in the car, on their way to go fishing. The neighbors, who see our sons as extensions of their own children. The young, tattooed couple walking by who were enthusiastically accosted, and who walked uphill two blocks to make a little kid’s day.

The kid netted $15 and grossed $10
The kid netted $15 and grossed $10

This random suburban sampling of humanity was kind and friendly. Almost all gave what was in their pocket, even if it was rather more than the price of a cup. Moreover, they gave encouragement, a smile and their support. No one stops at a lemonade stand because they are thirsty and pining for a cup of lemonade (although in point of fact, the best lemonade I’ve ever had was at a lemonade stand in Seattle). But lemonade stands do well because people are kind, and interested in each other, and generous. That is just as much “reality” – likely more so – than anything CNN is covering today.

It is one of my more pleasant chores to go through the pictures on my camera to upload them. I usually notify that vast cadre of people (all four of them!) that may be interested in such things here. To that effect, hey guys! I got the April pictures up! And it’s only May!