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Lessons Collected of Settling Dust.

Nothing feels quite as we expect it to. At intervals, a mental pinching is required.

We must be sure we did not dream what we lived. There were apocalyptic pockets: spots where suffering was disproportionate, whole families halved in a matter of hours, workers and students and childbearers whose entire ways of being were obliterated overnight and over months, for well over a year.

That happened.

It happened.

It is still happening.

But there was nothing so definitive as an Earth’s End. For many — for those who were not required by vocation or extreme need to place themselves at impossible risk for (often ungrateful) others — there was merely an extended suspending of animation. There was waiting and watching and facial obfuscation. We were told to vaccinate. A number of us did. We were told that when we did, we were free to move about the cabin of our country.

The fasten-seatbelt signs are off.

And we are moving, but through an existence molecularly altered, one we entered, perhaps, without children, and are emerging as parents. One we entered believing ourselves better off single and are emerging, peculiarly, partnered. One we entered not understanding the capacity of our bodies — their vital, unfelt functions, their threshold for thrashing and healing — and are emerging quite staggered at the daily deteriorating marvel of meat and bone, the dogged but delicate grind of organ and sinew.

Nothing is where we left it. In our tentative venturing, we’re seeking out our certain our points of origin and finding instead empty divots on a dirt road. We yearn to return to a place of precedents but along the planes of our new boundaries, not a single one is charted. We want the bearings of civilization, because we’re burdened now by knowing exactly where civility ends. Give us back our benign smiles, the ones that mask how well we know who wanted to move unmasked among our most vulnerable. Give us back the frivolities we cherished before we knew that what we failed to cherish would be what we’d be forced to mourn.

Of the opportunities lost to us forever let us forge new opportunities. May we cobble together something better than civility, something closer to lasting compassion. If we managed to build anything meaningful amid the ruin, may our structures be sturdy enough to shelter us even when we’re not confined to one place.

Let us ascertain afresh what it is to be alive. Let us make new. May we be made new.

Author:

slb is a writer and professor in Baltimore, MD.

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