On March 17 I awoke in a vacation rental in Florida. My friend and I had changed our airline reservations and were leaving Florida four days earlier than our original departure date. President Trump had halted air traffic from Europe the previous week, colleges were closing campuses and going to remote online classes and there was no social distancing taking place in Florida, which unnerved us both, and was why we left.
We arrived back in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day, but there was little fanfare and little anything green going on at Logan. Then followed Patriots’ Day and the canceled marathon. Passover and Easter, had remote services or churches and synagogues were closed. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day came and went, and the Fourth of July was fireworks-less, Memorial Day, Labor Day and then Thanksgiving had us with smaller turkeys, smaller gatherings, if gathering at all, and then the final holidays of the year, all drastically changed.
When we were growing up my father used to tell us when things weren’t going as we might have hoped, such as a flat tire on our bike, and we had to walk the long walk home from school, or the teacher failed to recognize us for something, to offer it up. What does this mean? Offering it up was my father’s way of providing us with the redeeming capacity of enduring, even when encountering some uncomfortableness, or of life going forward, in a way we did not envision. This was buttressed in large part by the Church.
Since March, without my normal routines with work/home/friends, I wake up each morning needing to remind myself what day it is, as the days seem to blend into one another. I noted the blossoming trees in April and May, and how they changed to a spectrum of September’s favorite shades before falling. The days grew longer, then became shorter. Each month the moon rose in the eastern sky and by dawn its silvery image had become tangled in the spruce tree’s branches beyond the yard.
One fall evening the dog and I went down to the lighthouse on Winter Island in Salem to photograph the first full moon of October (another was scheduled on the 31st) and there was an assembly of people gathered for the same purpose by the lighthouse, with tripods and lenses the length of my arm. One guy got out of his car and said to all of us, “Hey, what’s going on?” Then he was counseled that the full harvest moon was about to rise. “Geez, I thought it was the end of the world or something.”
“Nah, that’s next week.” Quipped another photographer from behind his tripod.
The pandemic stalks us. The closed shops, the reduced hours, the unending first news story of the day broadcasting the latest number of infections and lives lost. Gray shadows of 2020 are still everywhere. Street signage in the towns we live in remind us to wear masks, as well as placards prompting us about safety procedures in schools, offices, and stores, the bottles of hand sanitizer greet us in entranceways everywhere.
On an early spring morning I was walking in my neighborhood and I waved from across the street, to a neighbor, I don’t know well, but we smiled and we both agreed that despite the masks we were wearing, and the lockdown we were experiencing, we both expressed our gratitude for our homes, our cars, the cans of soup in the cupboard, the frozen chicken in the freezer.
I keep trying to learn something from all of this. What did I discover about not seeing my two daughters this holiday season? What have I determined about my inability to travel? And the other in retrospect small things that I’ve given up, or done without, and offered it up, because when compared to so many others who lost loved ones, jobs, health, homes – it is nothing – absolutely nothing.
So, perhaps that is what my father meant – to look at the big picture, these things, these events, these holidays were taken away, yet there will be others, and we should look forward to this next year, the next time, and quit bellyaching – another favorite phrase of my father’s, and put our shoulder to the wheel of life and get on with all we have, despite for some of us great losses, huge heartaches. For in 2021, this brand-new year, there is still hope, anticipation, promise, and if we match that with a steadfastness of purpose, as we make our way into 2021, there will be much to celebrate.
Regina Robbins Flynn teaches in the English Department at Salem State University and makes her home in Salem.