Pine Street Episode 225: Looking Back

It’s good to see you again, Nellie. I’m glad your teacher has you all still working on this. You see, things are so different now. It’s important to remember how they got this way. 

Or maybe, things are so much the same, and that’s why we need to remember they can change.

That first pandemic, we muffed it. Freely admitted now, from the safety of this sterile, uncomfortable spot I call my own. I complain a lot about what I can’t do here, Nellie, as you know. But compared to those days, when too many people were losing their homes, this warehouse for us old people looks pretty good.

Don’t frown. I can call it a warehouse, I live here. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. We messed up dealing with the first pandemic quite badly, as you know from your official history books. We had too much faith that investing in big corporations would save us. We had too little faith that individual humans would make good decisions if we gave them enough money to survive. We protested to open bars and left schools to try to figure out how to take care of kids without much help. Our priorities were all messed up, and the virus – well, it was just a virus. It replicated itself. 

But at times, it seemed as though the virus had intentionality: like it aimed itself at the deepest, darkest secrets of our society and lit them up like the rocket’s red glare.

The sadness of that time. For me, it’s summed up in one memory. My sweetheart and I delivered a box of food to one of our neighbors, an elderly lady with an unruly puff of white hair. Her husband had died the week before. She had to isolate, of course, and we were all afraid that the isolation would be deadlier for her than the virus. 

 It was cold, I remember. An unseasonably cold morning. Our breath was thickly visible. Her porch was slick with frost. The sun was just peeking up over the eastern horizon.

We placed the box on her front porch, rapped on her door three times, our signal to the people on our route that food was there. At this point, we were supposed to leave. For some reason, I couldn’t. 

“Hang on a second,” I said to my sweetheart. “I just want to…” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. 

We waited. Our faces froze in the cold. 

“Come on,” he coaxed. “We’ve got other deliveries to make.” 

“Just one more minute.” I looked toward her window. “Just one more minute.”

Then I saw her curtains move. Her puff of hair. Her eyes, red from crying. She waved. I lowered my mask, smiled, waved back.

Her face disappeared as she closed the curtain.

Here’s what we learned, Nellie. I’m not sure, but I think each generation has to learn this, over and over again. I can tell you, and I will. It’s not a big secret. But we humans, we seem to forget it all too easily.

That first pandemic shook us awake the hard way. Oh, it was ugly.

But we learned, finally. As we took boxes of food to one another, as we comforted one another through screens and improvised protective equipment, as we wept together.

We learned the only lesson worth learning: All we have is one another.

And that is enough.

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