April 1 is my wedding anniversary. Why did we choose April Fool’s day to get married? The short answer is that we needed a little levity.
I was in the hospital on bed rest because the docs were afraid that despite a surgical intervention I was going to miscarry. The long answer is that we were afraid that if we waited to have a proper wedding after the birth, our dear friend would die of AIDS and he wouldn’t be there with us to witness the ceremony and be part of our happiness. And we loved him with all our hearts. So they loaded me onto a gurney and we traipsed through the wards to the hospital chapel singing “Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get ma-a-arried…” He hung on until the baby was born and was able to see her and hold her.
On Sept. 11 I was at home in New York. My husband had just left for Connecticut and called me from the car. “Turn on the TV - an airplane has just crashed into the World Trade Center.” When it became clear that we were under attack, I ran out of the apartment to an ATM, took out as much cash as they’d allow and then ran to the school and collected my daughter who was now nine. We spent that evening with children who were waiting for their mommy to come home from work. She worked in the towers. She never came home.
And now in Spring of 2020 I’m sewing masks and scrub caps for an ER doc who has a toddler who reminds me of my little girl. Healthcare workers are among the groups hit hardest by COVID 19. Most of them have families waiting for them at home.
So birth and death. And yes, it’s the circle of life. You’re born, you grow up, most of us procreate, you nurture those children to maturity, play with your grandchildren, and then you die. Most of us expect some version of this. But when tragedies intervene – too many wars, the AIDS crisis, 9-11 and now COVID 19 – that natural cycle unspools.
In an uneventful year, winter is typically when creatures hibernate. Rivers freeze. The sun slips away before the day is half done. Spring is when we’re reborn. I’m always amazed and thrilled when I see those first little nubs of green poking through the dirt. It’s a miracle – flowers and leaves and whole bushes coming back. How do they remember? Who wakes them up? Why do we deserve this astonishing gift? It’s enough to persuade many of us to give hope another try.
It’s why Easter is so meaningful to so many people. “Christ has Risen!” like a bleeding heart holding out its blooms and affirming that yes, we’ve been given another chance. One more swing at the ball. Our faith restored by longer days and heavenly blossoms and rising sap.
Only now most of us are shut up tight in our houses and baseball is cancelled and teenagers aren’t allowed “to do effing anything!” BTW there are all sorts of stories of college students hurling themselves at each other for one last tryst before being shipped back home. And now they’re not even allowed to play basketball because of the virus being passed back and forth. They’re even cutting the nets.
It’s not fair! It’s unnatural! It’s too hard!
Yes and yes and yes.
The Hindus have some wisdom for us. Lord Shiva, aka “The Destroyer” is known for sweeping through and clearing the decks - just leveling us - in preparation for something new. Think of all the forest fires we’ve seen recently, the hurricanes and tornadoes, the locusts in Africa. And now COVID 19. All of them destroying the status quo. Why? Well, there are lots of long answers to that question. And it’s helpful to ponder whether climate change or deforestation or the eating of fruit bats has brought these microbes too close for comfort and these storms and fires to our doors.
But the short answer is change.
The universe is telling us it’s time to change.
Things are not going to go back to the way they were.
And yes, that’s disconcerting. But think of the changes that came after the AIDS crisis. For one thing, condoms became de rigueur. And lemme tell you, that sort of change was inconceivable without the threat of death. Gay marriage was passed and I’m absolutely convinced that the suffering of folks with AIDS humanized all of us and allowed us to see how short-sighted it was to deny our fellow human beings basic rights and protections. The country changed its mind and this year we had a gay man campaign to run for President and win in the Midwest.
On the other hand, think of the changes after 9/11. I remember stumbling on an impromptu concert in Central Park in the days after the planes hit and the towers fell. A fellow was playing the guitar and taking requests. Having lived through the Vietnam war, I suggested “Peace Train” but the crowd just wasn’t having it and neither was the country. We went off to war with how many dead and maimed? How many folks persecuted and attacked because of their religion and their skin color and their headwraps? And I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t have gone to war. I’m just saying that life changed. And not just because a plane was flown into a tower. Life changed because of the choices we made.
So we have an opportunity. And time to think about what’s happened and where we want to go next. But first it’s time to wake up and acknowledge that our lives are going to be different and that it’s time to marshal the willingness and openness to change.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. I want to do a column on how creativity is nourishing us and others at this time – how we’re making candles or soup or paintings or masks for one another. Or posting videos or writing poetry. So send me your pics at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.)