March to March

Yesterday, the Ides of March, was a dreary, cold day, the type that reminds any Midwesterner why it’s foolish to stow away the snow shovel prematurely. As I took our dog for a walk, Lake Michigan roared in the distance and the sun hid behind a cloak of clouds. A snowstorm was moving north and would reach us soon.

The scene looked and felt eerily similar to mid-March 2020, just after schools announced they would close their doors indefinitely due to the novel coronavirus. I remember playing soccer with my daughter in the driveway one evening under a chilly gray sky, feeling grateful that at least it wasn’t snowing. Our dog — then just a puppy — chased the ball relentlessly, at one point darting into the street. A woman walking by picked up the leash and handed it back to me, and my mind immediately raced with questions about the transmissibility of COVID-19 via dog fur and leashes. I told my worried daughter I was sure it would be fine, but I wasn’t. No one was sure about anything.

In those early days, dread followed us like a shadow. We understood so little about this mysterious virus — how it spread, how harmful it was, how long it would last. All we could ever say for certain was that we knew almost nothing.

A year later, we still don’t have all of the answers, and we’re grappling with the trauma of a national tragedy. More than 535,000 Americans who were with us in early 2020 are not here anymore. Millions of children are lost in a sea of Zoom meetings and Google classroom logins, families are grieving, and our collective mental health is suffering. And racial injustice has permeated all of these challenges, bringing into sharper focus just how much work we have to do.

But this is March 2021, not March 2020. While some aspects of our pandemic life — the masks, the restrictions, the heightened anxiety — have lingered, we have also witnessed hopeful change. We have a new administration that takes science seriously and endeavors to be compassionate and fair. We now have amazing, safe vaccines that will soon be available to every adult. Grandparents are able to hug their grandchildren again, and schools across the country are cautiously reopening. We’ve learned what actions we can take to protect ourselves and others.

I’ve also learned that I don’t align with everyone from a risk tolerance perspective, and that no amount of ranting and raving is going to change someone’s mind. I’ve realized I can choose to meet in the middle or step away, and either decision is okay.

And I’ve discovered that even during times of social distancing, there are opportunities for connection. Virtual coffee dates. Zoom video chats with friends over snacks and drinks. A dog walk with a neighbor. All are a balm for the soul, a way to tide ourselves over as we wait our turn for a magical jab in the arm.

Last fall, in memory of my aunt, I planted dozens of bulbs in our front yard — all in bright, cheerful colors, because Aunt Mary was the epitome of cheerfulness. As April inches closer, I’ve been searching for signs of the tiny green sprouts, waiting for them to emerge from the ground and begin their skyward climb. One day soon the flowers will bloom, bringing beauty to a once-empty space, reminding me how much has changed and how far we’ve come.

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