A Covid Commencement
For me, spring has always been a time for remembrance as much as renewal. That point in the year when we say goodbye to what was winter, and move forward toward that ethereal lightness called summertime. This year, the goodbye feels more pronounced and more tenuous, as we lift our masks, roll up our sleeves, inoculate ourselves from Covid and fear; as we step out into a new world. Even as we walk into restaurants or gather with friends for the first time, there is a part of my brain retracing those steps, moving backwards and in slow motion, to all that led us here. I can’t help but wonder, is this really okay? Will we be shaking our heads in October, wondering why we thought we were free, lamenting our trust in the scientists who kept telling us, if we are vaccinated, we are safe. Will we ever feel safe again?
My brain tells me that the science is real, the doctors are dedicated, committed to the truth, to the public’s health. The byproduct of 14 months of Covid, though, is that tiny ripple of uncertainty that wrinkles every happiness. Now, we know. Unimaginable things happen, hundreds and thousands of people can die of a virus in 21st century America, even as a safe and reliable vaccine can be created, like a miracle, a year later.
For me, May is the time of “Commencement.” Those celebrations of academic achievement, the bittersweet end of an education, whether for 12 years, or 4, or 4 more after that. As parents, we bask in the beauty of that walk across the dais, the diploma, the declaration of accomplishment. It hurts, like every ending, but as the word defines, it is actually the beginning, that confident march into the, as of yet, unraveled and wondrous future.
Commencements didn’t happen last Spring, and, for many of us, they were virtual, abbreviated or socially distant this year too. We cobbled together a way to mark the end and the beginning, even as we stayed inside, ordered take out, wondered when our beginnings would really begin again. Then Memorial Day weekend arrived, the state sanctioned restart, the day when the world could start spinning once more, and those of us vaccinated could loop our masks through the brass ring, and hop on board.
We celebrated on that first day of freedom, with a party, not too big, all fully vaccinated, to commemorate our daughter’s graduation from medical school. We cooked too much food, we spread tablecloths, we lit candles. We bought balloons that sunk under the weight of torrential rain and sub-zero temperatures. We counted our good fortune that the garden wedding which would have happened the next day, was postponed another year.
We crowded into the smallest corner of the kitchen, the way we always do. Her sister and her brother burst through the back door, smiling, happy to be there. Her future in-laws got back in the car after a long Friday commute, and drove down from their new home, of course they did. Her “off the cuff” dad caught her off guard with his carefully chosen words summoning a love always shown, but not always so easily articulated. Our old, arthritic, beloved dog found the energy to surf the counter and snag some donuts. We poured champagne into wobbly plastic cups, we served up quiche, dad’s famous hash browns, and her favorite fresh tomato pie.
We hugged and hugged again, and it felt normal, the way you scrutinize something closely and carefully, and determine, yes this is normal… that way. The way you experience something intimate and important, as almost an out of body experience, because it’s been that long…that way.
It was a Covid Commencement, the end of that thing that will always linger, the beginning of a new way of being, even as we cling, still, to what we were. It was a loud, raucous, mimosa laced, carbo loaded morning, the exclamation point on a grand achievement; the capital letter on a life newly devoted to the health and well-being of others.
I hope for all of us, wherever we were, whatever we were doing, there was a moment this Memorial Day weekend that felt the same; a moment that raised a glass to remembrance and to reward; a chance to carefully and thoughtfully, commence, with Covid mostly, mercifully, behind us.