April 23, 2021
The novelist Alice Walker writes, “Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming.” I find myself reflecting on her advice as I come out of a year of enforced hibernation and squint at the sun in my eyes. Here in the States, and in particular my own state, even while Covid-19 still thrives, it feels as if the gates have been opened and the race horses are ready to charge. Where restaurants were once closed or offered only take-out, now they are open and serving dinners, some at full capacity. Where once grocery stores and big box stores limited the number of shoppers, now people stream, uncounted, in and out. Places of worship have opened back up, some no longer enforcing social distancing or masking, and, in my own state, there is no longer a requirement that we wear masks in public. It’s all optional. Just as quickly as our world shut down, locked down, it now is opening itself up as fast as it can. And I am not ready.
Part of my reluctance to charge forth is that Covid is still here, and not in its original form. Just as it is a “novel” virus, so too are the vaccinations. Many questions still remain to be answered about how long our protection lasts and from what variants we are protected, along with whether the virus will pick up steam as people return to gatherings. I am one of the fortunate vaccinated people and, yes, there is a huge sigh of relief that comes with that, but also still some caution.
More of my reticence, however, stems from the fact that somewhere along the way, I got used to staying home. While it wasn’t optimal, Zoom interactions with friends and family sufficed in the face of their distance. Twice a month shopping trips for groceries became the norm as I avoided crowds, and I learned to live with longer hair and no new piece of clothing. Being at home every night, while at first anxiety-inducing, began to offer its own rhythm and security as I realized how busy I had been simply trying to stay busy. I am not saying I prefer being locked-down. No, I want choices like every other human, but I also want to be careful about how and what and who I choose instead of joining the human “race” again just because I can.
In some ways, I feel like a pup licking its wounds before it can play again. And wounds we have. The New York Times quotes Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves as saying, “We’ve been so traumatized by all of this. I think we need to have a little bit of compassion for the people having trouble letting go.” Healing from trauma takes time. We all have lost something or someone in the past thirteen months, including our freedom and missed opportunities. We have lost unity as a nation, steadfastness in science, dignity in politicians, and too many of us have lost friends and family, through death from Covid, physical distance, lack of keeping in contact, or political dissention. Even the Earth that at least had a chance to breathe during lockdown is again being exploited and trampled. I am not ready to accept that kind of race as my future. Instead, I believe compassion is a gift we can share as we each discern how to make our way in this new world.
So I ask my family, my friends, my community, my world for compassion, allowing me to unfold like a first spring fern, in my own time and in my own way as we all re-emerge. Some of us will be a little slower in getting back to what was routine as we feel our way forward and discern where we are headed, with whom, and why. We seek compassion from others to loosen their expectations of us and allow us to emerge, to unfold, as our hearts guide us, not as the world does. We are creating a future together, hopefully a better one than what we left behind, as we pause to step out of the door.
Like a fern unfolding in early spring
or a bear stirring in the shadows of its den
or even like a child cautiously leaving
the corner she was forced to endure
I ponder my steps as I re-enter a world
now altered by a single unseen virus.
Around me, like horses pawing and snorting
at the starting gate
and springing forth at the clanging of the bell,
humanity rushes forward as restrictions
fall way and protocols fade into normalcy
though all around us normal no longer
exists. Whatever might have been unveiled,
appreciated, gauged, during enforced
hibernation soon falls to the sidewalk
like so many discarded masks while people
clamor to eat their burgers, choose their new shoes,
cheer from bleachers, stream into places of worship
to worship . . . what? What new eyes will we keep,
what changed ears will we use, what brave communities
will we build, what fresh yearnings
will nudge us in a different direction from what
and where and who we were before? Or,
unthinking, will we simply race, once again
skimming the surface, skirting the edges
of all that could take us deeper
to the core of Love and Gratitude
and our very Being?
I hold my hand against the sun
streaming over my threshold and pause,
one hand holding onto wisdom
while the other reaches for
© Rosemary McMahan