Remember when we stayed inside for days while skipping signals prophesized dire warnings and arcane terms crackled across our radios, our Bluetooth speakers?
Remember an unseasonable February, a mild March, a winter that had denied us snow. Weren’t we ready for a change?
Remember a new vocabulary – words plucked from oblivion – that now made up the endless cant of our day-to-day: “PPE” and “social distancing” and “shortness of breath.” “N95” and “pulmonary” and “wash your hands” and “flattening the curve.”
Remember drunk Zoom calls and Face Times, virtual yoga classes, and Cameos. Remember song parodies, and TikTok videos, and all those recipes we tried – a nation of Sourdough starters. The little things that got us through a day, an hour.
Remember what a world ground to a halt looked like? Remember empty streets and solemn storefronts and nowhere to go.
Remember when we wore masks, first with what we could find, then with what was available until suddenly every website was boasting designer masks. Remember trying to assess just what the parameters of “style” were when it came to PPE?
Remember how we feared each other when we crossed the street or saw each other in the store. Skittish, eyes flitting left to right. Assessing risk like hunted, frightened mammals. Remember how we helped each other by small and simple miracles – guileless acts of humanity – grocery store runs for our neighbors, our seniors, bottles of hand sanitizer and Lysol gifted, masks donated. There were rainbows, and painted rocks, and singalongs on balconies, and messages of hope. (We were strong.)
Remember how bored we grew. How many times we tried to tried to teach ourselves to knit, to draw, to play the ——. How we crafted and did puzzles, repaired our homes, read books and binged Netflix and Disney+ until our eyes ached and our heads were fuzzy. How we made videos of ourselves, and cut our own hair, and all our browsers held articles with titles like “50 Fun Things To Do In Quarantine”
Remember how we budgeted and scraped, how we waited for unemployment or stimulus checks to come through and thought: How long?
Remember how time itself changed. Wondering for the fiftieth time the day, the date. How the weekend brought only aimlessness. How the days – identical, and yet the months each its own flavor. How we learned in this way what the afflicted, the chronic, the silenced and dispossessed have long known: that even suffering has its seasons.
Remember empty shelves, and sold out aisles, and the sheer, primal, triumph of finding toilet paper.
Remember all the walks we took around our towns, our cities – how they tired and amazed us?
Remember how communities and people that were not us were ravaged more than we could understand. Families torn apart. Futures, and preoccupations, and humors blighted. How 250 years of policy and appetite took their patient, unremitting toll.
Remember how we were complicit.
Remember schools closing and then opening and lessons from home. Virtual proms, and DIY graduations – at-home photoshoots, and video speeches, and parades of honking, triumphant cars. Remember how elementary teachers passed the windows in long processions, waving at their sequestered students?
Remember how our farms were teeming with risk and our factories were rich with poison, but we had to put food on the table and so we rose in a dull and plodding duty and headed soundlessly to work, awaiting the promised tests.
Remember how the sound of our laughter changed: heightened with desperation, deepened with gratitude.
Remember when the Himalayas became visible and the animals encroached. Remember how certain rhythms went on without us, undisturbed, and how the robins and the fox grew bold.
Remember how we yearned for sports to return. Even baseball.
Remember those deemed essential. Remember those who risked, and sacrificed, and labored, wrapped in anonymity and a duty for which there is no other word than Grace.
Remember, also, how it did not need to be this way.
Remember how swiping right now lead to long, in-depth conversations – courting rituals as intimate as they were interminable – and we waited, starved, for touch.
Remember the fault lines of a nation divided – stress fractures splintering across our topography like roadways and rivers: Science vs. Ideology, Progressive vs. Conservative, Rural vs. Urban, Private Profit vs. Public Interest, Those With vs. Those Without, Mask vs. No Mask. All Americans. All susceptible.
Remember how we ignored stay-at-home orders, and we protested and raged, mistaking in our fever independence for liberty, belief for relevance, defiance for shrewdness, our bonds for fetters, and sacrifice for loss. How we prickled and flushed fiery; so afraid to be taken for fools. How such notions were stoked by the traitorous equivocating – those safe, sheltered who jangled and warbled in discordant tones for ratings or power or profit. Remember how we loathed and lectured each other and shouted, deaf, into unmoving faces.
Remember Spring. A brilliant, vivid green – grander than it had ever seemed.
Remember first discovering, surprised, how nice to be at home, to have time to ourselves. To be with our loved ones. Remember when we could not stand to be around our loved ones another second? (Remember when we could not stand to be alone another second?) And remember, later still, when we felt such depth of appreciation, such sympathy, such a restless, oppressive, frustration – all these things mixing in an agitated and confounded love which we could not articulate except to say: “Another episode?”
Remember when 2019 seemed like just the absolute worst and we were brazen and disdaining, breathless in our impatience to kiss it goodbye.
Remember 7 pm in New York, and “Stay Safe Detroit,” roses left on windshields in Illinois, prayer sessions on hospital roofs in Nashville, mystery free lunches in Maryland, and murals appearing across LA. Anonymous gifts of kindness. Dolly Parton and Josh Gad reading bedtime stories to beleaguered families, food boxes and Little Free Pantries, and discharge bells ringing in Minnesota hospitals. Children hunting for teddy bears in windows across the world.
Remember all those who died.
Remember all those who died alone.
Remember the gross demands we made of others. Remember how corporations toyed with profits and sick packages while the meaning of essential and expendable blurred.
How amidst it all we found friendship, and love, and laughter, and sometimes even purpose. We were married and had kids, led book clubs and discussions, taught each other skills, shared movies and music, had virtual dance parties and birthdays, and shared commiseration and cheer in coffee breaks across our screens.
Remember multifarious forms of exile endlessly refracted across our separate experience. How we came to know it. Some for the first time. Did we learn, then, how so many exist? (See:) We lived in exile, our native land before us. (See:) We spoke in exile – a language no longer shared or common – our lips chapped, tongues rolling heavy and plump, useless in our mouths. (See:) We dreamt in exile – the wardens departed. Forced to find for ourselves a workable, fugitive security, to fashion and decide our own tentative peace. For we were on our own. And meanwhile: Our pandemic – gendered and raced and classed – as sectarian as us.
Remember a cruel and feckless authority that knew only how to politicize. An ignorance cavalier. A narcissism feral. And 100,000 graves newly heavy in our soil. Remember how we were pitted against each other. You of course remember the lies, and the misinformation, and the feeble, gutless scraping of the incompetent, the corrupt, and the damned. That is not our topic. Nor is this the stage on which it shall forever rest, disgraced. But instead – America. Look at her in her disheveled robes, her haggard glory, her distressed and pendular gait. Her defaulted promises, her broken monuments, her farcical declarations. Purblind; her scaffolding awash in sun. So many hurting and betrayed.
And yet. Still a harbor dimly glimpsed. A parchment’s ferric bleed, an intimation partial. A notion offered – begging completion. This importuning, noble, not undying flame. Still so many decent, earnest people striving to do right.
Remember May 25th when, with nothing else to claim as a distraction, we were forced to look ourselves directly in the face, to confront a nation’s aging sin. Remember how we protested in shock and outrage. Remember how we protested in weary unsurprise. Remember how we did not understand, or did not protest, or did not ask. Remember how we hoped, and yearned, and burned that summer (like other summers) for change. Terrible and absolute.
Remember how the radios talked of murder hornets and EEE while the arctic boiled and we wondered: When will it end? Will it end?
Remember virtual concerts and gatherings, poetry readings and prayer groups. Theater live-streamed and monologues performed over the phone. Art collectives and music ensembles sustained from every corner of the globe. In a world that had stopped, we still found ways to turn the aged and weathered wheel of commonwealth toward communion, inspiration, imagination, faith, and hope.
Remember when, as a country – sometimes together, often alone – we endured.
Remember – (perhaps) – how, slowly, we became better.