Originally published June 22 on Medium
This week we drove to school to turn in some of the materials the kids shoved haphazardly in their book bags on March 13. We left the end-of-year drop off with a bag full of half used school supplies, hopeful paintings of scarecrows and snowmen, and a summer packet. An incomplete time capsule.
The first to go was my second grader. We drove through the drop off lane with our library books, iPad, and the completed work my son insisted we bring (even though I tried to explain that we completed the work to learn, not to prove it to the teacher. This felt more responsible than what I really wanted to say which was, “it doesn’t matter. None of it matters.”) His masked and gloved teacher picked up what we brought and exchanged it with what was left in his desk.
My son stuck his head out the sunroof, looking for his friends. He waved to the car behind us and the one in front of us, chatted with his teacher for a minute and we pulled away. Goodbyes stifled behind masks.
If you ever wonder what disappointment looks like, take a second grader who hasn’t been to school in months, tell him he can finally go to school on the last day to say goodbye, then watch as he realizes the image he had created in his mind does not match the reality. “I thought all my friends would be here at the same time, like everyone would get to be in the parking lot together.”
The air was heavy with tears that never dropped. I wonder if he felt like I did. Like it would’ve been silly to cry (We’re healthy! We’re safe! We’re in our bubble!) and silly not to cry (No one is safe! We’re in a bubble!).
With the weight of the pandemic now compounded by civil unrest the world is dark. Not beginning-of-a-storm dark or the-sky-is-falling dark, but a persistent ominous grey.
As we inch toward week 14, the sharp edges of quarantine have dulled. Lines of racism have faded revealing an endless ocean of injustice. The summer of 2020 is starting to feel amoebic. Shapeless. A season where nothing ends and nothing begins. School fizzles with lingering summer packets. Restaurant dining tables limp onto sidewalks. Protesters march in every town, like it’s 1968 or 1992 or 2012. The world seems as if it’s always been this way and it’s never been this way.
Even my inbox, with its orderly columns and lines, feels like it’s let go and now sprawls. A watercolor of airlines and kids sports desperate to resume, urgent political messages with calls to action, news articles swirling in circles.
I can shut it all down and walk away. But that doesn’t really make me feel better. The darkness follows.
I can immerse myself in it all — the headlines, the modified camp schedules, the protests, the statistics of cases and tests, the statistics of incarceration and police brutality — but that doesn’t make me feel better either. The darkness lingers.
I’ve been venturing out more. And I’ve been watching the number of cases tick up and up. I try to take steps to fight racism and learn more about becoming anti-racist. And I watch injustices stack and stack. It feels like we’re all trying to pretend the dam will still hold while wading in the flood waters.
Summers — with days that stretch and bend, day and night, work and play — are meant to be shapeless. But this summer feels different. Or maybe summers were never as carefree as I remember? Everything feels senseless and everything feels important. Has it always been this way or never been this way?
Endings and beginnings provide reassuring markers. They give shape to where we’ve been and where we’re going. But they aren’t always obvious. Summer kind of begins on Memorial Day or the first 80 degree day or the last day of school or June 21. Racial inequality was supposed to end when slavery ended or when Jim Crow ended or when we all witnessed the brutal death of Rodney King.
It feels like this should be the end of the pandemic or the beginning of racial equality. The beginning of a universal decline in covid cases or the end of police brutality. It’s not.
Like so much of the age of quarantine and protest, maybe this murky mess is another hidden gift. Shapelessness is an opportunity; a reminder that we can shift and change without worrying about breaking standards or norms or preconceived ideas about what should be.
As we sifted through some of the work my kids brought home from school, I told them we were still going to try to do some kind of learning this summer. “Like summer school?!” They whined. I persisted. “Well, we won’t really follow a schedule but it’ll be like both the end of one grade and the beginning of another. We’ll do a little practice and learn some new things too.”
They weren’t convinced. I’m not either. Of anything. Will anything change? Will anything ever feel normal? Should it?
I tried again with my kids. “It’s a weird time. Still. I know. But weird times make us think of alot of questions, right? So we’ll make it the summer of finding answers.”
“What if we can’t?”
We’ll keep trying.