The After Days

Spring arrives emergent; a sense of jubilation and rebirth as a waning monochrome winter casts forth an ambitious spectral line of color to spawn the promise of rainbows. Our bodies slowly shed their pasty-white winter pallor for the sun-kissed promise of summer. The newborns of nature stumble to and fro under the watchful eyes of tired mothers. Old men sit in the park again to share new wisdom steeped in the short-shadow days of winter.

But this year is different. Emergent? Yes. Stumbling forth? Indeed. Out of the devastation of a wildfire of uncertainty, sickness, and death, we navigate around hotspots and deflect the embers of a pandemic blaze that has crippled our nation and world. Who knows if Darwin is grinning from ear to ear, or shaking his head in disgust? What comes next will follow signposts marked by the charred and crooked timber of humanity. All we really want is a “next” that is not the pandemic past.

The losses of the pandemic days will be measured for years, perhaps even a whole generation. The hard data—the whole numbers—are easy enough to count. The infected, the hospitalized, and the dead are slowly replaced by tallies of the first shot, second shot, and fully immunized. Herd immunity is a common aim (if only we were a herd). Yes, there will be empty seats at the table, but there will also be deep scars left on the souls of those who remain able to pull up a chair.

The soft data—the stuff that is hard to tally—piles up like detritus in the eddy waters of a river. It will take a very long time to flush it downstream. Mental anguish does not bleed, but it drains life just the same. The missed moments of youth, lost in isolation from classmates behind the sterile two-dimensional screens of technology, may manifest as errors of judgment for years to come. The now expressionless stillness of a coping stoic’s face tells a tale of its own. Hearts scarred by infection or cleaved by despair will never be whole again. At this dawn of spring, the challenges seem overwhelming.

I lost half of a family during the pandemic days; not to death, but to despair. The pandemic lockdown proved effective in exposing both demons and carefully concealed deceits. Our matriarch fled in search of a new life in hopes that a new place, and the prospect of a new partner, might finally make her whole. She had thought the third time was a charm, but a fourth bell rang. When faced with imminent danger (whether real or imagined), mammals freeze, fight, or flee. Running away has been her life-pattern; a modality she probably adopted from her love of horses. The half of a family that remains is hopeful her wake of destruction unfurls the possibility of her happiness, while we marshal on.

This spring, we must all crawl forth toward the light of the after days. Do we have a choice? The darkness behind us—the death and despair—will be locked in the pages of history which, with the blessings of hope, will remain forever sealed. This is our moment, as humans and as Americans to set a new course. The ladder of lessons we reluctantly endured during the pandemic days provide the rungs for renewal; of the birth of a stronger character against which we will forge a durable resilience to face the hereafter.

We must meet the challenge of remaking our country and world. We owe it to the memories of lives and loves lost. We owe it to our little ones who will be big ones soon. We owe it to ourselves.

Please take a moment after reading this to breathe in slowly, deeply, the promise of spring. Then, after an equally slow exhalation, let’s all get to work. The sprigs of spring suggest that the after days are upon us.