COVID-19 wouldn’t have impressed my great-grandmother Gracie too much, I’ll bet. I was expressing this notion to a few colleagues on Friday in an office ping thread where we were heaving a collective sigh over the language that’s everywhere you turn right now: in these uncertain times, we are here for you, we’re all in this together—it’s growing so tiresome, isn’t it? Speaking only for myself, I find those turns of phrase lose a little more meaning with each passing day. One coworker said he was toying with keeping a list of companies whose intentions are questionable (read: we ‘care’ about our employees but instead of giving them a leg up, we’ll spend a fortune on this advert where we give ourselves a giant high five for being so dang caring) and stop buying from them. I hear his frustration and feel it too.
Anyway. My great-grandmother was a fierce woman, had a quirky personality to be sure, but was beloved by all. She was born in 1899, died in 1992, so suffice it to say she lived through plenty of suffering in her lifetime. Were she alive now, the biggest challenge any of us in her family might face would be keeping her safe, because she was apt to throw caution to the wind in the face of constraints. Wearing a face mask? That would be a tough call for a woman who defied nursing home rules in the last chapter of her life and smoked in her en-suite toilet instead of going to the lounge to do it, where she’d be forced to listen to the kind of half-witted yammer she detested. That was finally the cruelest blow in her last years, I think: A lifetime of bad lifestyle choices had taken their toll on her, and her sharp mind had no choice except to occupy a failing vessel of a body. She would have her cigarette where she wanted to have it. But COVID-19 rules? Lordy.
The virus is real though, and up this way we’re still observing the rules, most of us. On an afternoon walk last week Scout and I came across a man and a boy, I’m assuming his kid, the man standing on the sidewalk in our pathway, the boy perched on a tractor parked on the road, pretending to drive it. I whipped out my mask and put it on, because I couldn’t see a way to get around the two of them without breaking the six-foot rule. But as we came closer, I noticed no traffic coming behind us at all, and so Scout and I crossed the street, crisis averted. We continued on our way but as soon as we came parallel with them, the man raised his voice so I could hear him explaining to his kid that nobody could make him wear a mask; the kid just sat there saucer-eyed, drinking in this bit of ‘wisdom’ from his role model while he watched us walk by.
I thought about the octogenarian who lives right around the corner and whose groceries I had helped unload and haul to her porch a few days earlier. She wasn’t masked, but I was—I kept a respectful distance from her and placed the groceries on her front porch where she directed me to. She seemed so sweet and told me how walking the aisles in the grocery store had just about worn her out. I said, yes, grocery shopping is especially tiring right now because of the one-way traffic; she thanked me, and Scout and I continued home. Later on, I told David about her and said I wished we knew her and could just go get her groceries, but in the same instant it occurred to me that the very act of getting out and doing her own shopping is probably actually good for her. Except when it isn’t, because of people like the man and the kid on the tractor and others of their ilk who insist their ‘constitutional rights’ are somehow being violated because town leaders are asking them to abide by rules to slow the spread of a deadly virus.
I learned the meaning of ‘democracy’ from my first-grade teacher. That was a long time ago and I can’t remember many specific details, but one comment she made congealed and has stuck with me forever: Your right to swing your arm ends when it reaches my nose. You’ve heard it, probably, in one of its many iterations, the original attributable to different people. But for my six-year-old self, that evocative statement was so clear and insightful. And surely if a first-grader can comprehend it….
But I digress. Here’s what’s been happening around here on this first unequivocally spring-like weekend in our tiny corner of southwestern Vermont.
Yesterday David and I participated via Zoom in the high school graduation of one of my Knoxville Ballet School students, the commencement exercises in a back yard, with three participating families and their daughters practicing social distancing (there were even three separate mics set up for each family to read aloud the speeches they prepared for the three lovely young women). So strange, so memorable, and so bittersweet. As I told her mama, I can’t believe the little peanut of a child who came to me at age six for her first-ever ballet instruction is now striking out on her own as a young adult. I’m so proud of her and what she’s accomplished in the intervening years, and impressed by the examples her parents have lived for her—superlative role models, to be sure.
Stay safe and healthy, be well. And to echo the sentiments of one Maurice Sendak, Live your life, live your life, live your life.