Foot, Far, Farley, Floyd, Fear, Far Far and the Future
I had very little experience with unprecedented times. All of my life had taken place in that predictable peaceful precedented period.-Some Blithering Idiot…me.
While it’s true that very few people in our country had lived through a pandemic, let’s face it, even though history does tend to repeat itself, no time is really “precedented.” But to be sure, this year was confusing, crazy, and for some, catastrophic. I’m calling it the year of the F-words.
My year, from March to March may come down to these f-words. If the year of corona started on March 10, then the first word that comes to my mind is Foot. Nancy had major surgery on her foot on March 10. She would be non weight-bearing for 4 weeks, in a boot for 4 more, and then hobbling for who knows how long. I waited for her to come out of surgery on March 10, watching news about the virus and a review of a book about America’s race problems. Foreshadowing.
On March 12 we started school from afar. It felt so very far. At first I wrote out assignments and typed hundreds of responses to kids’ questions, trying to create a correspondence classroom. Later, I started recording read alouds and recording lessons, trying to create an audio and video classroom. Still later I began meeting with the whole class and small groups through Google Meet (not Zoom. We didn’t trust Zoom yet), trying to create a virtual classroom. No matter how much we approached a real classroom, every time someone froze, glitched, disappeared or just didn’t show up, it felt like we were far apart.
On March 14, we met the puppy we’d (foolishly?) decided to adopt back in February. We had lost both of our old dogs on the same day three months before. I was not sure I was ready for a puppy. I wasn’t sure my heart was ready to bond quite yet. My wife and daughter were sure. The rashness of this decision was not my reason for resisting, but when I think about it, it was very rash. We were adopting a puppy, a large puppy, and he was arriving two days after my wife’s surgery. For all we knew at the time of the decision, my wife would be home on a couch, I would be at work, and my daughter would be at work. The puppy would take himself for walks? He would rest calmly beside my wife?
As it turned out, for the next five months, we would hardly leave the house. Farley, the pandemic pup, would receive the most attention of any dog we’d had in our family. He would also provide more entertainment than any dog we’d known, a constant marvel with his acrobatics, his rapid growth, his daring escapes, and his love of toys. It would be an exaggeration to say that he saved our lives, but he certainly forced us to smile and take life easier.
Then came the confirmation in May that the Covid pandemic was not our country’s only sickness. George Floyd’s death under the weight of brutal police force, showed us that we are still a racist nation. Nothing felt unprecedented about that attack or the protests that followed. The only difference, maybe, was how graphically we experienced it. The video of a killing made the moment undeniable. I spent the summer grappling with my own biases, understandings, and role in the healing. I feel that thus far I’ve taken the easy path of reading books, listening to podcasts, and joining discussion groups. So far, I’m not sure I’ve contributed much to addressing the problem.
At summer’s end, we re-opened our school, albeit in hybrid form. Those first few days and weeks, I washed my hands so frequently they were raw. We ate outside. We wiped down desks. We wore our masks. We kept our distance. I changed my clothes the moment I came home. Gradually the routines became…routine.
Later in the fall, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Really? With everything else we were trying to avoid, this is what arrived? She had surgery in December and radiation in January and February. Fortunately the prognosis looks great, but we really wondered about the piling on.
Far and Farfar
In November my father contracted Covid. We’re not sure how, since he lived with my mom in virtual isolation during this past year. He spent five weeks shuttling between hospitals and rehab facilities, unable to advocate for himself and unvisitable. He passed away in December. Since the early 90’s he’d been known to my kids as Farfar (their father’s father). We kept calling him that because it was just fun to say. I didn’t know that the forced distance of his final days would make that name take on new and unwelcome meaning. In January, on what would have been his 90th birthday, we brought relatives and friends from as far away as Sweden and Australia into a Zoom Memorial. It actually included more people than it likely would have drawn had it happened on a December weekend in Washington. That gathering of far-flung relatives and friends brought some solace to our family.
And now we are fully re-opened. The sequence of opening and vaccinating seemed inverted, but now gives some sense of optimism for the spring. While the opening days of 2021, with the insanity of the insurrection, did not bring the sudden turnabout that we all imagined, now, perhaps, the prospects of a better spring and summer have me feeling some hope. When I used to hike with teen-aged campers, we would have long days and tiring climbs. Toward the end of a lengthy climb, we would sometimes see a break in the trees and a glimpse of what we thought was the peak. Some in the group would get the urge to gallop toward the top. The voices of experience often had to caution against “summit fever,” knowing that lots of Adirondack mountains have tantalizing and frustrating false peaks. It’s always best to try to keep a steady pace. I’ve been thinking about that as I watch spring fever and vaccination euphoria converge. I hope that we can all maintain our steady pace as we head toward a healthier and fairer future.