If you want to get more posts like this, delivered to your inbox every Monday, subscribe to my newsletter at Substack, here.
I’m not going to lie. My optimism has come close to reaching its breaking point this week. I’ve felt the numbness of despair creeping in.
I don’t despair about the virus itself. The virus is a thing of nature1 and it will do what it’s going to do, including fading away eventually because nothing in nature lasts forever, including us.2 What I despair about is the habits we’ve formed over these past two years.
Will be able to stop letting our lives be ruled by fear? Will we be able to have serious conversations about the important things we’ve sacrificed (like crucial years of our children’s socialization and education) and when it’s time to accept a certain amount of risk in order to stop damaging ourselves in other ways? Will we all be able to stop sounding so certain—certain we know what’s right while those people over there don’t? I don’t know.
Perhaps, as my friend suggested, this is the messy transition to the “after” we’re living in these weeks. But if so, the messiness feels like too much to bear.
I am close to despair, but I have not surrendered to it yet.
On Saturday, I went for a walk along the river and I listened to a podcast about wintering and how winters may be hard, but they don’t last forever and we cannot live our whole lives in the headiness of summer. Winter is an invitation to rest and regenerate. Nature understands the necessity of winter. So should we.
At the end of my walk, I ran into an older woman on the sidewalk. She was bundled up, a scarf pulled over her face. “Stephanie!” she smiled and said to me.
“No, not Stephanie,” I said.
“Oh, well, I see your face around town all the time and I thought I knew you.”
“I’m Robyn,” I said. “And now you do know me.”
This is how things go in Madison. We bump into each other and bump into each other until eventually we stop and introduce ourselves. It is too small a space to ignore people and this is a thing that gives me hope.
After my walk, I watched my Bengals win a playoff game for the first time in 31 years. And sports are certainly imperfect3, but they are also a source of great joy. After the Bengals won, I called my dad, who used to take me to games when we had season tickets, years and years of shivering in the cold and being the last people in the stands after we’d lost once again. Years and years of getting our hopes up only to have them crushed. And we’re not Chicago with the Cubs, but we, too, are joyful.
Then Saturday night, my friends came over. We sat around the dining room table. We were a small group, but just the right number. We told stories and laughed and drank cocktails. We didn’t talk about covid because there’s nothing left to say. We gossiped and remembered the first time we met and told embarrassing stories about each other.
This is the cure for despair. Joy and togetherness. This is a truth I must remind myself of over and over. The pandemic may take many things from me, but not this.
“This is my one, small precious life,” I thought to myself as I went to bed that night. “And this is exactly how I want to spend it.”