Deprived of something, we notice it and bemoan its absence – laughing in a movie theater with a crowd of strangers, watching a live string quartet with the collective hush all around us between movements. There is a power of being together and having an experience in person with others that cannot be replicated on a screen. There are a host of things like this that the pandemic has enhanced through their loss.
Right now, before we get too much of our former lives back, each of us ought to make a mental inventory of what we have missed. We should hurry to do this reckoning, before we become numb to what longing has taught us. During month after month of enduring a circumscribed world, what had been normal became extraordinary. Recently, I was startled at the pleasure of picking out my own apples from a grocery store bin, rather than glimpsing them already bagged, a done deal in a curbside pick-up.
Taking things for granted is a kind of mental dullness applied to the ordinary. We will surely succumb to it again unless we fight hard against it. I want to keep savoring the act of feeling around in the bin, choosing the apples by whim or confident agency, instead of erasing a 30-second chore with my mind already on the carrots.
You may never have noticed that the Latin word for bread, pan , sits in the middle syllable of the word companion. With friends, we break bread together – an ancient rite and act of personal connection long impeded by masks and distances. After a fourteen-month abeyance, a few weeks ago my husband and I sat in a leafy backyard with two other couples and did just that. We were six vaccinated friends with our masks off at a table resplendent with goodies. The sweetness of the occasion – food, drink, smiles, and laughter – had been multiplied by the length of our communal absence, and we could all feel it and could see each other feeling it.
Smiles! I keep asking myself, Will you remember to keep appreciating how good it is to see whole faces? What a fundamental aspect of life, like clouds or sunlight, a smile is. We have had to fill in the blanks with suggestions from eyes, but this has not been nearly enough. Last week, seeing my ten year old granddaughter's entire face was like returning from a long journey, a homecoming. Yes, I have "seen" her all year maskless on FaceTime, but only as yet another image on a screen, not a living breathing three-dimensional face smiling at me. This time we were outdoors, still far apart, but it was an exaltation.
In this moment, I saw what it was to exalt , to fill an experience with intensified feeling, to lift it up from the ordinary. I saw that my granddaughter was seeing in my newly revealed face the exaltation of love for her that was beaming at her, and I saw, too, that something like this in her was beaming back at me. This was a gift the pandemic was giving us. As clearly as I saw this and took it in and memorized it, I realized how subsequent occasions could vanish back into the mundane if I let them.
I still haven't roamed the aisles of a bookstore and reclaimed the serendipity of running into a book by an author I had liked and forgotten. I haven't yet attended an in-person conference where I can fall into an animated conversation with the person who happens to sit next to me or with someone behind me in the inevitable line for the ladies room. It has been a long time since I exchanged a smile and then a greeting with a stranger out on the street. Much awaits me to be prized and celebrated by senses not blunted and a consciousness not taking it all for granted.
What is here today will be here tomorrow? This illusion has been thrust away from us. We have been sorely disrupted and in so many ways we should be glad of it. When everything goes as expected, we run out of reasons to cherish and remain alert. Let's not get so re-accustomed to our freedoms that they lose their luster. Perhaps the memory of this unexpected time can become an ever renewable call to attention .
Copyright: Wendy Lustbader, 2021
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