A year ago it was about survival of the fittest. Stocking up. Foraging for food and other important paper products. I honed my spreadsheet skills as I inventoried the pantry, made the list of easy meals from cans, learned to decipher the codes on the old Clorox bottles, cleaned out under the sink and my closets. My head went down as I went the wrong way in the grocery aisle, headed for the Grape Nuts and Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake cookies that others would soon discover, I was certain. My elbows were out, sharpened, my fellow shoppers, the enemy.
Thankfully, masks hid my face, along with my glasses - completely fogged. I was a competitor, a threat - not only a potential carrier of the virus but in the way of others’ basic needs. Nevermind that people were getting sick, front line workers risking their lives, older people dying alone, many people dying alone. At first, strangers in China, then Oregon; then people who knew people I knew; then those closer.
Teaching shifted from gratitude for online instruction to demands for more. Parents’ concerns about their own inability to get their work accomplished echoed those of teachers’. Time passed. Students were missing, emoticons replacing their faces, voices and faces silent at the request to “Turn on your camera.” Silence.
The year went on. Toilet paper returned, meat was available, cookies plentiful. I had masks in different colors. My pantry? Disorganized. My pantry spreadsheet? Forgotten. Students? Some were still muted, their emotions dulled, their faces still covered, their curiosity dimmed by squares of faces or the black box of a classroom. No science labs, no goofing off at lunch, no mixing of cohorts. No chance for the messiness of friendships, mistakes, learning about and from one another. 6 feet. 6 feet. 6 feet.
Now, a year in, we’re exhausted. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. Murder in Atlanta. People dead from SARS-CoV2 edging towards 600,000. A congresswoman denying Newtown. People living it up in Palm Beach. I’m dizzy, but not because my glasses are fogged.
The vaccine is taking hold. Amanda Gorman wants to be president someday.
We yearn for friendly eyes in the Giant. Smiles behind the masks. Conversation in the check out line. Hands outstretched and not elbows. Bipartisanship. Are they dreams? Is it still a dog eat dog world, or can we trust that if there is one roll of toilet paper left on the shelf, it will be enough?