As I sat out on the back deck at long last, the blue jeep with the Pennsylvania plates rounded the curve and Katie was walking up the street with a bouquet of flowers. Her face lovely, her hair falling just beneath her shoulders – a most wonderful sight after not seeing her and her husband, Dave, since Christmas of 2019. For younger sister Maggie, not seeing her sister had been even longer.
There had been news all week about Massachusetts opening up and lifting restrictions. After a year in semi-lockdown, my disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, still occupy a small basket in my car for easy access after food shopping and gas fill-er-ups. I welcome the easing of restrictions, certainly Katie and Dave would not have to quarantine for 14 days while visiting.
The regulations, rules, and restrictions of 2020 are slowly falling away, and everyone I love had received the vaccine and we could hug and enjoy meals out on the deck. And while we didn’t hesitate to be together, I could still feel the lingering doubts about being safe, these remnants of doubt left to us by the pandemic. I wonder how many of these habits will endure?
I am still happy to don a mask when I enter a store – as I spent this past winter without contracting any colds, probably due not only to mask-wearing, but to washing my hands even more then I had in the past and slathering them with sanitizer if a sink and soap were not possible.
Every spring semester I teach travel writing. In the spring of 2020 I had three Chinese students from the University of Nanjing in my class. One morning they gave a presentation on China’s Lunar New Year celebrations and during the presentation one of the students became teary because this year their families were not allowed to travel due to the COVID-19 virus spreading in China.
After class, as I returned to my office I thought, what in the world would the U.S. do if challenged by the virus? I couldn’t imagine what my students had explained happened in China ever occurring in the U.S.
A few weeks later we all found out, as schools closed and our lives changed drastically.
As my daughters left this past Saturday, after many hugs and farewell kisses, I was filled with that odd sadness of them just leaving in general. When I boarded the plane in Pittsburgh in December of 2019, I never dreamed that it would be over a year and a half until I saw them both together again.
And I thought back to a final essay that one of the Chinese students submitted for her final project. She wrote about her journey back to China, which was filled with canceled flights and delays and other difficulties in late April of 2020. She typed the essay from her hotel room where she spent 14 days in quarantine. Despite the enforced quarantine, she noted: “The hills outside the window now are coated with a silver halo under the bright moonlight. The soft air is tinged with a delicate fragrance, and I hear the gentle whisper of the breeze floating in the fresh April night sky.”
As I walked back into the house I recalled those lines and how undiminished my student’s resilience was in the face of the unexpected end to her year at Salem State University.
While many have suffered much, in fact far too much during this pandemic – I hope that we don’t hold onto the fears of this past year and can begin this summer with light hearts and notice all that we still possess, such as the soft breezes now threading their way beneath our windowsills in the night sky.
Regina Robbins Flynn makes her home in Salem.