It’s been more than a year since I last believed in normal.
A year since the ordinary spring afternoon when we left our jobs and our schools behind for the weekend, not understanding, yet, that on Monday we wouldn’t return.
From the start, even as I settled in to remote learning and remote working, I knew, deep down, that this was going to last longer than we were admitting, but I didn’t know just how much longer. A month? A season? Surely by the end of summer, the beginning of fall, we’d be able to get on with our lives.
Summer and fall seemed such a long time to wait, back then. Three months. Six months. A lifetime. There was so much that we didn’t understand. How this new virus spread. How we could stop it from spreading. Whether the entire food supply chain was about to collapse, or whether a few short-term pasta and toilet-paper shortages would be the worst of it.
I also hunkered down, because there wasn’t much else to be done. I went for walks. I painted rocks. I planted vegetables and learned to make sushi. I struggled through remote learning with my child.
I dreamed of escaping into the mountains for the summer, until the mountains began to burn.
I learned to wear a mask and despaired as others refused to learn. I met friends outdoors, in socially distant lawn chairs, and worried even that was a risk best avoided. I watched as businesses closed, then opened too soon, then closed again and opened too soon again. It seemed no one wanted to admit that normal wasn’t coming back any time soon.
I watched as the cost of that denial came to be measured in human lives. Thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. I watched as too many people kept eating out, kept gathering with family, kept talking vacations, all for no better reason than that they’d always done these things before and couldn’t bear to live without them.
I’d always done these things and couldn’t bear to live without them, either, but somehow I lived without them anyway.
It wasn’t enough. Those who followed the rules still died because of those who ignored them. There was no longer any such thing as an action that affected only the person taking it. Everything we did now affected everyone around us, affected strangers we’d never meet, affected our entire community. That’s how pandemics work.
That’s how life works. It’s just that when everything seems normal, some of us have the luxury of forgetting that, some of the time.
Maybe normal was always an illusion. But illusion or not, too many people kept insisting on doing too many things, just to prove that no one could tell them which things to do. Our Covid numbers rose, then fell, then rose again and just kept rising.
Time blurred. A blistering, wildfire-fueled Arizona summer. An autumn overwhelmed by more remote learning. A careful, careful return to learning in person.
An election. A riot. A transfer of power that no one called peaceful, because free and fair elections had become one more thing to deny in spite of the evidence.
A winter spent feeling angry and helpless, despairing that it didn’t have to be like this. But it was like this, and nothing I did could change the fact.
When the first vaccines came, months and years ahead of schedule, I should have felt hope, even joy. But I was suspicious of hope by then, and scarcely dared believe in it. If this was hope, it was literally in short supply, anyway, as hope too often is.
So instead I argued with strangers who refused to wear masks at the post office and insisted on holding birthday parties in the park. I yelled at family members for eating out. I lost friends when I told them they had no business going on vacation, not now.
Yet in the end, despair had no more power to change reality than denial did. Spring came, because spring does, whatever we do or fail to do. Arizona’s Covid numbers started to fall again, first slowly, then faster. My backyard irises bloomed—a gift from a stranger I’d never met, the stranger who owned my house before me.
I began going for walks again, and wondered when I’d stopped. I planted more vegetables. I volunteered at a local vaccine clinic, and kept volunteering even after I was vaccinated.
I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this hope thing was real after all.
I struggled–still struggle–with forgiveness. All the restaurants and other businesses who opened or re-opened too soon, because the rules said they could and they decided their economic survival mattered more than other people’s literal, physical survival. All the individuals who refused to wear masks or shelter in place because they decided their personal struggles mattered more those lives, too. So very many people who just decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the same basic precautions I’m weary from following, and who with their refusal made this all last so much longer.
I tell myself their decisions came from weakness. not malice. I tell myself that carrying so much anger only hurts me, not them. Yet I wonder—how do we forgive when no one is sorry, when so many have made clear they would do it all the same way again? This isn’t over yet, and some days it seems that even after so much time, no one has learned anything after all. Even as I write this there are Arizonans pushing to relax the rules, too soon, yet again.
Still, it is spring, and there is hope, and I’ve finally come to the part of this story where at least I believe these things are real.
Now I just need to push through a little further, on to the part where I learn, once more, how to trust them.