On a recent sunny Saturday, fully vaccinated, I went to my first picnic, expecting a quiet day in the park with half a dozen other fully vaccinated folks. But for the first time in over a year, I encountered traffic on the road. When I arrived at the park, I could hardly find my little group among the crowds. About 20 elderly folks spread comfortably among several tables, singing oldies together accompanied by guitars. Behind the picnic area, uniformed young men played an intense game of baseball, applauded by an enthusiastic crowd. And—this was a new one—a selection of amplified music clips blasted out at each important juncture of the game.
Every single picnic table was occupied—with young, old, couples, families, all enjoying the day. A multitude of kids gamboled in the playground. More kids ran, rode bikes, walked, and crawled across the grass. Families ambled by us, nodding hello. Some were masked, some not.
Our little group had a lovely time, despite the crowds. But I arrived home excited, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I tried to explain my confused state to a friend on the phone.
“It sounds similar to the feeling of coming out of a silent retreat,” she said.
Yes! That was it, exactly. A level of sociability and immersion in the human world that used to be the norm now feels abrasive, intrusive, over-challenging. Too much.
Had you asked me in that moment, I would have said, I don’t want people all over the goddamn place. My few, my chosen, yes. Maybe the occasional crowd would be fun–a concert, play, or ballgame, a march–those times when the collective consciousness is strong. Other than that? Let the parks stay empty. The streets, quiet. The sidewalks, bare. I’ll order my groceries online and download books for my Kindle quite happily. Take quiet walks, alone or with one other.
Another friend said, “We’ll remember this time forever. It’ll go down in history.”
But what will we remember? Where, for example, is the 1918 flu in our remembered history? I was probably an adult before I even heard about it—yet 50 million people all over the world perished. My grandmother was a teenager then, and she talked about the pain of sending her older brother off to fight in WWI, and how she and all the other high school kids had to dig potatoes in the fields because there weren’t enough men—but not a word about the flu. Wars get remembered, not illness.
What will we remember? What will be remembered after us? Already last year is a blur of sameness. There was quiet. There was birdsong. There were more stars visible. There was COVID out there, somewhere. Then there was my brother-in-law, Jim, dying of it, alone in a care facility. There was Zoom. Netflix. Jokes. Funny videos. TikTok.
And oh yes, there was Trump. There was the horror of waking up each day to another bit of grandiosity or corruption or suspicion or cruelty. One outrage after another, as the pandemic spread and people tried to determine what to do about it or even whether to do anything, as more and more people died.
There was a presidential campaign, with a wonderful field of Democratic candidates. And finally a new president. Not the one I would have chosen, but surprisingly, I have no complaints.
There were people singing together at their windows and on their balconies in Italy. People applauding caregivers every sunset. And people just staying home. Like me. And mostly, if it weren’t for the worry and all the suffering out there, doing just fine.
It’s all just too weird.