Where I live, Fall has arrived abruptly with a more than 50-degree temperature swing overnight between Monday and Tuesday. Highs suddenly went from 80 or 84 to 28 and 32 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Toward the end of the week, things are climbing back up towards the 70’s, but it is assuredly no longer summer. Labor Day marked the end in a very literal way this year.
It seems like a good time to document some of the things I want to, or, rather, should remember about this spring and summer.
- Waking up to Amanpour and Company streaming on PBS over coffee. We needed more news, but quality news with context and nuance. We did this for a long time, but I ultimately had to give it up with no end in sight. I was spending too much time in front of the TV, even though it was nutritious TV.
- Suddenly being inside Christaine’s home, and Judy Woodruff’s, Mark Sheild’s, David Brooks’, Amy Walter’s, and Tamera Keith’s. Sometimes in their offices, sometimes in their living rooms. In Hari Shrinavasen’s case, we were in front of his blank, white wall until the News Hour graphic loaded. As of this writing, we are still in John Oliver’s blank, white void. We met William Brangham and Lisa Desjardins’ cats. We saw their art and their books. Judy’s tome on Grant stood out. It was weirdly intimate, and it must have been so for them as well, showing their private homes to the world. Now it seems normal. It is something we have all stopped noticing.
- Darting back inside the house or the car to snag the mask I almost forgot to bring on my walk or wear into the store. How is it that I am still doing this, six months after masking became a thing?
- In the spring, I could not bring myself to spend any significant time indoors. I set up a patio table and did many of my unemployment-required work search activities outside. I did huge amounts of yard work, and went for long walks. I was keenly aware every single day of how lucky I am to live in a place with a yard, a patio, and great walks.
- The unforeseen shortages. There was a shortage of yeast, of kittens, of bikes, of puppies, of flour. The toilet paper shortage, though irrational, was something you would expect. No one’s emergency preparedness plans included kittens and flour.
- The agony of watching the country adopt a worst of all possible worlds approach, both tanking the economy and failing to control the virus. Knowing this was going to go on and on and on because we were so committed to getting it wrong, then having the gut-churning feeling of being right. The horrible helplessness of watching the country ignore the experts, with predictable consequences.
- The homemade masks. It seems like it took forever for companies to get around to making and stocking masks. It’s only recently that I have finally started seeing them in Walmart. Suddenly, even before lockdown started, everyone was doing DIY masks. They even sold kits at the arts and crafts stores. Many were donated to health care workers and may have been of some use, though they were not what they needed. People were making masks for their own use, too. But mostly, I think the sudden popularity of mask-making was about the feeling of doing something. It was so surreal to endure a crisis when the best way you could help was by doing nothing. Sitting at home binging on Netflix while New York was collectively gasping for breath just felt wrong. By making masks, people at least felt like they were helping.
- How utterly empty and spooky things were in mid-April. I went for 25 days without leaving the house except for outdoor exercise, and once just to drive with my mom. Walking towards my town, going through the local elementary and high schools’ parking lots, was haunting. There were no cars on the road, no voices in the air, no bustle, just empty parking spots and silence.
- Conversely, how busy things were on the trails. There is a county Open Space park near my house. To be fair, the county’s more populous areas mostly foot the bill for our Open Space. In our case, the cities of Lakewood and Golden pay the bulk of the sales tax that provides this wonderful resource. This summer, it has felt like most of Lakewood and Golden has been up every weekend. The county next door was so inundated that they closed their roads to non-local traffic, and shut their parks down.
- How reassuring it was to see all those people on the trails. Don’t get me wrong. On several levels, it was far more alarming than reassuring. It was so crowded people couldn’t stay far enough apart, many people chose to hike in big groups in close proximity, and very few people were wearing masks. At a conscious level, a run in the park was actually pretty stressful. But on a subconscious level, it was a huge relief to see people, to confirm that the world hadn’t ended, that the empty streets didn’t reflect a post-apocalyptic reality. Humans are social animals, and the need to connect with others, even at the very superficial level of nodding or mumbling a greeting on a trail, is profound. Hiking or running in the park left you anxious about all that contact, but also relieved that people were still out there, and still people.
Good historical fiction has always been one of my favorite ways to learn about the past. It allows me to connect to different eras by providing reasonable speculation about what things were like. All of life is living through history, of course, but you are far more aware of it at a time like this. And you are far more likely to be asked, years down the road, what this time was like, how it felt, what you noticed, what you did.
So from time to time I will write down some of the things that I think it is important to remember. Please leave some of the things you want to remember in the comments section. When my great-grand-nieces need to do a research paper, or decide to write a book about 2020, they will have a rich resource (if incomplete — I didn’t even get to George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the presidential campaign, or the fires) full of information on what it was really like.