Rain and darkness. Darkness and light.

It rained yesterday.

It’s been raining a lot this summer, here in my corner of the desert Southwest, drenching rains that make doors swell and stick shut, that cause foot-tall weeds to spring up seemingly overnight, that turn dry washes into temporary raging rivers as water struggles to soak into soil baked hard by decades of drought. We tell one another how grateful we are, to see water in this land defined by its lack, hoping our gratitude will encourage the rain to keep coming.

But until yesterday I didn’t feel grateful, as the rain fell with startling regularity, filling our blue skies with clouds for hours, even days, on end and shrinking our usually distant horizons. Instead I felt like those skies: dull and soggy and gray. I felt like surely it would rain forever.

It’s been a rough couple of years. There’s nothing particularly special about my pandemic story—my family and I are as safe as anyone can be, safe and sheltered, and I’m keenly aware of how many people can’t say as much. Yet I’ve been slogging through these Covid says, feeling alone as so many of the ways I used to escape isolation—sharing a meal, going to a movie, catching a plane someplace else to visit far-flung friends—have turned from everyday luxuries to foolish, even dangerous acts. Watching others happily continue to engage in these activities, often without even basic safety measures, only deepens the sense of isolation, prolonging the pandemic and making it feel like these days are never going to end.

Like this rain is never going to end.

There are new stresses this fall, too, as I send my child back to school in a state that’s actively fighting to deny districts those safety measures, putting classrooms full of unvaccinated children like mine at risk. Yet keeping children at home carries risks, too, leaving families without any good choices, but only bad choices and slightly less bad choices.

Loneliness. Depression. Stress. These days have been gray since long before the summer rains began.

I’ve been working to pull my feet out of the soggy mud of where-we-are for what feels like a very long time. Working on sleep, working on exercise, working through therapy, working, finally, with medication. Working to accept the up days and the down days, working to understand why my instinctive “fight” response has gone into stress overdrive, working to remember that, deep down, I’ve always believed that light shines through the darkness, rather than the other way around—a belief that’s informed nearly everything I’ve written.

I’ve not been writing much, during these pandemic days and months and years.

Yet yesterday, something shifted. Just a little. For just a bit.

The rain had been slowing down, dousing us every few days instead of every single day. The Sonoran Desert is moving toward autumn, slowly, inevitably. There are more blue days than gray ones now.

But yesterday the clouds got up a full head of steam early, and by mid-afternoon our weekend family gaming and reading and web-surfing were interrupted by first a rumble, then a crash. And because it was mid-afternoon and not night, my husband, my daughter and I all spontaneously ran out beneath our carport as the rain began to fall.

It was a wild rain—full of wind blowing trees, full of water that whooshed beneath our feet as the carport turned into a puddle, full of lightning flashes and bright bolts that bridged the gap between earth and sky.

And for once, something in me leapt up to meet that wildness. To enjoy it. To revel in it.

[Video of rain storm]
During the rain.

I stood outside getting splashed by cold gusts of rain, and for the first time in what I only then realized was a long time, I felt something that wasn’t anger or exhaustion or fear, something that was, tentatively, inching toward joy.

I splashed with my daughter in the growing puddle at our feet. I watched the mesquite tree in our yard whip back and forth in the wind. I laughed when the storm rumbles gave way to a series of loud cracks. 

It was a just-wild-enough storm, fierce but not dangerous if one had shelter nearby. It was a storm that could be enjoyed, and so I enjoyed it, as I hadn’t enjoyed the summer’s other storms, for no better reason than that when this storm came, something inside me was, at last, ready for it.

As I splashed and laughed I thought about the last time I was recovering from a depression this deep. There came a point, as I fought that depression, when I saw a full moon rising over the mountains, and looked at it, and felt the brilliance of its silver light someplace deep inside me, where for countless months before I’d appreciated the moon and everything else with only a distant sort of intellectual knowledge.

That startling moonlit moment wasn’t the end of the tunnel I’d found myself in. But it was a start—a reminder of Before, a first hint of a way out.

Here in the desert, as in the rest of the country, Covid cases are still rising, and a great many people are still ignoring or denying the fact, and all of us are paying the price. There remains cause enough for fear and despair.

But it rained yesterday. If I can hang on to the feeling of a wet, cold storm just wild enough to wake me up a little, maybe I can find a way out of my own personal tunnel this time, too. Maybe I can chart a course through those parts of the current darkness that come from within, rather than from without.

And maybe, just maybe, I can find once again the brilliant silver light that knows how to shine through the dark after all.

[Clouds reflected in rain puddle]
After the rain.

“Be kind and respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.”

At my daughter’s elementary school, every child learns three things from the first day of kindergarten on: “Be kind and respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.” These principles inform every aspect of school life, creating a caring atmosphere that’s one of the reasons I love her school and want to send her back in person this fall.

But I can’t.

Our school is currently offering both online and in-person options, and at first I struggled with which to choose. Yet if I ask myself the same questions my child has been taught to ask, the answer is clear.

Is returning in person kind?

I recently attended a (virtual) school board meeting. District teachers spoke, often tearfully, about how they were being forced to choose between a career they love and—quite possibly—their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Unlike district families, teachers aren’t being given a choice. If they’re assigned to teach in person, they need to either show up or resign.

It’s a cruel choice, and kindness demands I not ask teachers to make it. Instead, by agreeing to learn remotely, I help increase the number of teachers who can teach remotely.

Is it respectful?

Throughout the United States, teachers are terrified of returning to face to face learning. Here in Arizona educators have already died, even while socially distancing, even on relatively empty campuses. What will happen when our facilities are closer to full?

Respect demands I recognize that our teachers’ lives are just as important as our children’s lives. If I respect educators, I can’t put them in harm’s way for my own benefit.

Is it responsible?

Arizona’s per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases are among the highest in the country, as are the resulting deaths, and our hospitals are running out of ICU beds.

Responsibility demands not giving our tapped-out public health system more cases to treat. It demands I step up and do my part to help my community maintain the capacity to treat all who are sick, so that our hospitals don’t have to make life-or-death decisions about who receive care and who doesn’t.

Is it safe?

Remote learning has been challenging for my daughter and me, as it has been for so many families, and I have a new appreciation of the ways the benefits of face-to-face learning extend far beyond academic achievement. I want so badly for my child to experience those benefits once more.

But like my child, I have to accept that sometimes, being safe means we can’t always do what we want. Evidence is growing that single greatest Covid-19 risk is simply sharing an enclosed space with other people, breathing the same air for an extended period of time. That’s pretty much the definition of classroom learning, and I’ve yet to see a plan effectively mitigates that risk.

Safety demands I not send my child into this dangerous situation, even if she wants to be there, even if I want her to be there, too. Not yet.

Not until Arizona’s Covid-19 numbers drop—and our understanding of the virus grows—enough that we can return in a way that truly is kind, respectful, responsible, and safe.

Masking up

Confession: The first time I stepped outside wearing a face mask, I almost took it off again.

I try not to care what other people think, but walking through my neighborhood, mask covering more than half my face, it felt like surely everyone I walked past was staring at me.

I could have taken the mask off, if I really wanted to. Outdoors, it was easy to keep my distance from my fellow quarantine walkers, and the main thing my mask was protecting me from was probably seasonal allergies. But this was a trial run. If I couldn’t wear a mask now, out in the open, walking by myself, how would I wear it all the other, more critical, places I needed to wear it?

I kept my mask on. In the U.S. we were just beginning to understand how important mask wearing was in protecting our communities from Covid-19. I knew this was something I had to get used to.

[Me in a dark pink mask]
It’s really not that hard. And yet …

I did get used to it, and now, a couple months later, it’s a habit. A couple months has also given me time to think about where my initial resistance came from.

Before Covid-19, I’d only very occasionally seen anyone wearing a mask in public before. When I did see someone wearing a mask, my first thought was, “I wonder what’s going on with them?” I would have denied it if you asked, but I realize now that masks were, to me, a sign of frailty, of physical weakness.

I didn’t understand, yet, what those in a great many other countries where masks were more common knew instinctively: that you don’t wear a mask to protect yourself, but to protect those around you.

Indeed, I also realize now that I thought of mask wearing as something that people did in other places, but not here, as if we didn’t all share the same biology, the same vulnerability to disease.

I wonder whether some of those refusing to wear masks have had similar thoughts, consciously or unconsciously, but have failed to recognize and push past them, and so have grown defensive instead.

In the end, knowing masks were necessary made me push past my own resistance, but it didn’t make me feel comfortable doing so.

It was seeing others wearing masks that did that.

On that first walk, mask wearers were few and far between, but I wasn’t the only one. Whenever I saw another walker wearing a mask, I waved, and they waved back, and as I walked on, I felt more at ease with my own mask, and less self-conscious. I wasn’t alone, and neither were they.

As masks have become more widespread, that feeling has grown stronger, and wearing a mask doesn’t feel all that awkward now.

[Four masks with various patterns]
My growing mask collection.

There’s a need to for more messaging, more education, on why masks are needed, as well as more political will, in my community at least, to enforce mask mandates.

But I wonder whether, in the end, the most effective way to get others to wear masks is simply to continue wearing our own.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”

1. I have a piece in the Weekly Humorist this week.

Buy My Book, It Will Protect You from the Coronavirus, Says Author Whose Public Appearances Have All Been Canceled

(For the record, I didn’t have any launches or appearances planned. But a great many authors have, and you should totally buy their books.)

2. Good Unicorn, Bad Unicorn.[Good

(Good Unicorn: “Feeling ill? Here, let me cure you with my magical horn.” 
Bad Unicorn: “Get your unicorn-purified hand sanitizer here—just $500 a bottle!”)

Hang in there, everyone.