Let The Good Times Roll
In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences.
-Albert Camus, "The Plague"
To begin, I hesitate to use the plural pronoun here, to extrapolate from my own experience; I'll just speak for myself as witness, participant, peripheral observer, narrator, protagonist. But I'm also a reporter and have gathered stories, not evidence, but stories. That said, I make no claim to knowledge beyond my own experience and reporting. But the sense of loss, real and metaphoric—of time, of opportunity, of family, of schooling, friendship, romance, micro-connections, among so many other facets of our lives, seems universal and profound. There is courage within us, of course, fortitude, even a great deal of joy, hope and gratitude for the miraculous vaccines, but I am not a member of the clergy and this isn't a sermon. It is not my job to elevate my readers' spirits in hard times, or to be a cheerleader as the good times roll in again for the fortunate among us.
Speaking for myself, then, there's a sense that I've lost –not everything, but far too much. This loss, or confusion, surfaces in pandemic dreams which have intensified during recent shut-in months. In the past, therapists have asked, "What do you feel as you awaken from the dream? Describe the sensation, describe the emotion." And if some of my informants were asked to reply this week, they'd say, "incomparable loss, irrefutable loss, continuing fear and uncertainty, impatience with restrictions, eagerness to get out into the larger world, isn't it obvious?"
Speaking just for myself, again, even though I've got food, shelter, work, a significant other, and objectively can't complain, or mustn't complain, I sometimes slip into judgment—of a friend, say, who's just been on a skiing holiday, or another who's boarded a plane to run a marathon in Florida, or another who's been to Spain and toured around as though the plague has completely receded and life is already as it was—for them. I am privileged myself, no argument there, and if I had the will or the opportunity to travel right now, I probably would risk it. Indeed, I am aware that I, and most of the people I hold near and dear, will continue as before, or even better, albeit older. There might be a glimpse of regret, or desperation, for those of us who were "older" when the pandemic began. These two lost years have hurt. Then again, considering the numbers who have died, and their loved ones who have suffered so much, maybe just being alive is enough now, or should be, as we pivot into renewal and normalcy, whatever our definition is of normalcy.
Sometimes the portentous dreams, triggered by what I have researched or written, persist. I think of the family down the street who lost a father to Covid and has been broken by sorrow and a poverty they did not anticipate. They became my dream. I was on a bridge traveling somewhere into the future, which was unattainable. Lord Byron might have called this dream image of nothingness ahead, white as a sun-spattered cloud—Death awaiting. There was no grounding in that image, no ledge on which to sit and watch the sky or sea. The only antidote to such a free fall dream is to weight myself in hiking boots and march full throttle into the mountains.
I'm reminded of the days following 9/11. I was in the city and had to force myself back onto the subway to teach after roaming for weeks on foot. I wrote poetry and read it aloud at events to commemorate the dead, and the courageous front line workers, and survivors. It was all part of the process of recovery; we will never forget, nor should we, but we will carry on. And something comparable will also be true of this global pandemic, now entering its third year. We won't forget, nor should we. We will mourn the dead. We will carry on.