She stepped away from the front door, locked it, and turned towards the car. Her family waited, bags packed. She looked over her shoulder to the mail slot. She paused and wondered, “When will I be back?”
They wanted to head east, the consequence of the ancient longing for home known to so many people throughout time and of the restrictions imposed to stay safe from this much feared disease. There was no longer any point in staying.
This morning, I spoke with an old friend who pointed out, “Today is March 2, 2021.” We chuckled for a moment at the thought, “Has anything interesting happened in the past year?” Then, we turned to the more serious. She asked, “What have we learned?”
About a year ago from today, I walked the streets of Lisbon, Portugal. I do remember a gnawing sense of fear, the way a hunger pang slowly comes on. A few people wore masks, and social distancing had not yet become normal. In neighboring Spain, lockdowns and restrictions had started. In Italy, the dying had started. In Portugal, the air was warm and tourists still moved about. People seemed happy.
But, as we all know, that could not last. At the end of the vacation, we scrambled to get home. President Trump had announced the closing of borders. No one really knew what was happening. No one had any reliable information. No one would answer the phone.
We went to the airport to see if we could get a flight and found calm chaos. No one pushing or yelling, but no one really knowing anything, either. Rumors flew. “Trump closed the border! All the flights are canceled!” was common sentiment. My wife knew enough Portuguese and Spanish to get some help from one of the airline agents.
As he processed our information and assured us we would make it, he asked us, “Are you scared?” “Yes,” my wife replied. He continued in English, “Me, too. We don’t know what will happen to us.”
We scrambled through the airport and arrived at the gate sweaty from our run. We boarded. Eight hours later, we landed on US soil.
In May of last year, I wrote of the changes occurring due to COVID19. I used Albert Camus’ novel The Plague as my guide and rightly, the book predicted much of what would happen — from human selfishness to human sacrifice in the extreme. Camus describes in detail the political, economic, and social lightning bolts that shock the system, but who in our modern world could have imagined what we witnessed in a year’s time? I need not recount here all we have seen. Forget for a moment your opinion of right and wrong. You know how different you are now than you were a year ago.
At that time, I wrote of my hope a great clarity would emerge. I believed then, as I do now, people could channel the terror into both an inward and outward focus for the benefit of others. Sure, human greed abounds in myriad forms; however, because I believe most people are inherently good, then COVID19 will teach us some severe, yet important lessons. We can live better lives.
Today, I return to both my friend’s question of the morning and Camus’ writing. In the novel, the plague exacts a horrific penalty on the city, and through persistence and intelligence and spirit, the characters lend their collective shoulders to the rock and push it up the hill. Amidst ubiquitous, ghastly death, only through love of their fellow man do they win. Towards the end of the story, the plague abates, and ominously, the narrator states,
“And everyone was out and about to celebrate those crowded moments, when the time of the ordeal ended and the time of forgetting had not yet begun.”
My friend’s question demands an answer, but more importantly, a promise. What have we learned? And what will we not forget? We cannot possibly thrive as a human people, regardless of our differences, if we “return to normal” and extinguish from our memories what we have endured together. We cannot build back better what has been so quickly destroyed. We must let the impurities burned away in this blast furnace stay forever gone.
So, I add one more question for you, dear reader, to consider: What will you do with all you have learned?
She opened the car door, sat one moment more staring at the front door. Breathed in and let out the long sigh often heard these days. Her boys in their car seats, her husband beside her. “I will be back,” she thought, “better than I was before.” She put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the driveway.
Thank you for reading.