Sometimes you don’t see the patterns in life until you look back from a distance. Other times you can detect them immediately. Pandemics have a way of crystallizing things, of offering contour to an occasionally nonsensical world. Concerns about one’s demise, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, not only tends wonderfully to concentrate the mind but also to divide its existence into before, during and after.
We’re still in the “during” phase but three things happened in my trifling existence this week and last that signals the arrival of a new and hopefully brighter stage. Through a combination of luck and advanced age I managed to score a vaccine, indeed a second dose. The appointment had been postponed a week due to shortages, causing some concern, but the serum eventually found its way into my upper left arm.
For those young’uns who might be jealous of my good fortune let me just say I slipped ahead of you because I’m old and will most likely perish, if only due to natural causes, well before you too. In other words, I won’t be around to see how things turn out. On the other hand the way things are going — especially climatologically — I might not want to. Yet I remain wedded to the idea that an appreciation for beauty is woven into our genes and will ultimately triumph, if not here, then elsewhere. I read recently that given the ease with which life forms from simple chemicals there are likely 36 advanced civilizations in out galaxy. Not 35 or 350. 36. For some reason I take encouragement from the precision of that calculation. I’ve even taped it to our refrigerator, even though I realize that it doesn’t do much to alleviate the suffering we’re currently experiencing in this solar system.
The second thing that happened is that we’re celebrating an anniversary this week, though celebrating might be the wrong word. Observing is probably a better description, the way one rubber necks an accident on the Taconic State Parkway in the middle of snowstorm while remaining vigilant that you not be next. March 13th marks one year that we and others who were lucky enough to be able to do so left NYC in haste to social distance upstate. I haven’t taken nature taken for granted since I was approximately eight years old. But its virtues were never more brazen than they were this past year. My gratitude to the forest far exceeds my ability to express it.
Finally I seem to have come to the end of the family correspondence and photos that I packed into boxes after my mother passed away in 2019, moved to a storage locker, and that I’ve been diligently reading, cataloguing and occasionally discarding for the last twelve months; far too occasionally discarding for my wife’s taste.
I mourn the end of that process, especially since I’ve yet to find the grammar school field day ribbons my mother snatched away for safekeeping as soon as I won them. Still, there’s something to be said for being able to board a time machine, fasten your seatbelt and set the cosmic dial for the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies even though seatbelts weren’t required back in some of those years.
I remember when seatbelts were about to become law. My school bus driver, momentarily extracting the cigarette from his mouth to pontificate — second hand smoke wasn’t a thing in those days — defiantly told me he’d never wear one because he wanted the freedom to jump from his stationwagon before impact. That made an impression on me even though, while always respecting my elders, I managed to detect the weakness in his logic. People like that still exist. You can spot them all over the place. They’re called anti-maskers.
But I take the conclusion of that archival process as a sign that it’s time to do something meaningful with all that material. Surviving the pandemic has been as much about your situation in the world as any precautions you’ve taken, but having had a monster project was a blessed distraction.
Now that we’re vaccinated we’re having a dinner party next weekend, coincidentally on March 13th, the anniversary of our exodus. It’s a very small dinner party, the guest list comprised of geezers such as ourselves with comorbidities too numerous to mention who are also fully vaccinated and whose immunity should be kicking in.
I typically make a toast at dinner and this one seems more important than normal and already to have written itself. It’s to the home that’s sheltered us for the past year and to all those essential workers — the nurses and doctors, the supermarket clerks, the delivery drivers who brought things to our doorstep, the farmers and food service workers whose labor helped keep the rest of us out of harm’s way. May their service be acknowledged and they fully receive the gratitude they deserve.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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