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What I’ve just finished doing at 3am: ordering more masks for my son. Fortunately, there are lots of masks on sale now. Perhaps some companies are slowing down their production or getting rid of their stock? I feel certain that Zeke will have to start third grade wearing a mask every day at school. I had been hoping and praying and wishing hard that he would be vaccinated by September, but from what I’ve been reading, that’s not going to happen.

This morning I learned that a friend of mine–not only vaccinated, but hyper aware of vaccination and COVID protocols as a volunteer for the county health departments vaccination clinics–got COVID anyway. Apparently from his son, who is not yet 12 and thus ineligible for the shot. And he thinks his son contracted the virus during an outdoor fishing camp. This news scares the crap out of me. I had heard about vaccinated people getting infected and I know that the vaccination makes it less likely that their case would be severe or fatal, but I don’t know who those other people were or how carefully or carelessly they behaved. But I do know my friend, who is a science teacher, takes the virus seriously. And I know we have all heard for a while now that it’s ok to be outside without a mask. Until, of course, it’s not.

We have a big basket of masks on the table beside our front door. And a bucket on the floor where we deposit the masks we’ve worn so they can be washed. But a lot has happened since the early days of the pandemic when masks were in short supply and we wore whatever we could get our hands on. So probably 75% of our masks are ones that we don’t wear. They don’t fit right, they’re made of uncomfortable material, they’re too hot, etc. Early in the mask wearing days we did what we had to do, but when you realize you’ll have to keep the mask on for hours at a time, you want one that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Beyond the immediate issue of making sure all of us have the masks we need to be safe, I am starting to wonder when we’ll be able to trust the CDC, the health departments, or whatever other medical authorities are telling us what to do. I believe in science and I absolutely know all these people know more than I do about COVID. But I also know there are politics involved and pressure from the public and doubtless mysterious forces unknown to me that influence these decisions. So how do we know the right thing to do? First we didn’t have to wear masks. And then we did. And now we don’t, sometimes, except when we do, but that seems to be highly variable right now. Meanwhile, cases are rising. Sure, they are worse in areas where fewer people are vaccinated. But now that there aren’t many mask rules, anyone can walk around breathing the air that everyone else breathes and there’s no telling whether they could be carrying COVID or not.

I hate wearing masks. Often my glasses get fogged up, no matter how I position or pinch the mask to avoid it. My face gets sweaty. When I try to take off my mask, it gets tangled in my glasses and I take them off by accident. I have been so relieved over the past several weeks to not worry about always wearing a mask, enjoying the freedom of my vaccinated status. But now I’m wearing them again to the store. So is my vaccinated teenager. I really don’t want to start wearing them outside again, but of course I will if I have to. But how will I know? Is there some ultimate COVID sage who I should listen to above all others? Do I rely on my own judgment, despite the fact that I have no expertise whatsoever in epidemiology?

Sure, life is better than it was a year ago. I am thankful that most of our family is vaccinated. But this thing is clearly not over, and I wonder if it ever really will be.

Someday they’re going to publish scientific studies showing that living through the COVID-19 pandemic actually destroyed our brain cells, ravaged our mental health, and smashed our attention spans to bits. For example, I literally could not finish writing the previous sentence without pausing to play a turn in a word game, responding to a text, and checking the weather forecast.

I know a lot of people who have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD, but I feel right now like almost everyone I know is extraordinarily distracted. Is it because we’ve had enough of sitting inside our houses and our brains are yearning for something else to focus on besides what’s in front of us? Maybe it’s because we spend all day on various devices for work and for socializing and for shopping and for entertainment and we are conditioned to attend to the pings and the pop-ups? Perhaps it’s because we are so desperate for a change–for good news and for a definite end to this pandemic that we welcome that little burst of dopamine that comes from a potentially exciting distraction. Maybe this next ping or ding or buzz will be the one that turns everything around.

When this research comes out, those of us who have lived through the pandemic will roll our eyes and make snarky comments, like we do now when we see headlines like, “Excessive consumption of alcohol shown to contribute to bad decision making.” Because someone needed to study that to prove it was true?

I keep wondering how long we’ll be able to use the pandemic as an excuse for everything that is wrong with us. Because 14+ months of intermittent isolation from friends combined with constant interaction with family and unending uncertainty about the future is a legit excuse. But it’s getting so old.

Zeke commented recently that he feels like he can hardly remember life before the pandemic. He just turned eight, so more than one-eighth of his life has been lived in this bonkers environment. When he goes back to school in the fall for third grade, will it all be weird or will he have forgotten what the old normal was like? We keep hearing about how there’s no going back to normal, there’s just creating a new normal. But right now it seems impossible to build anything more elaborate or lasting than dinner for my family, which is hard enough.

The truth is, I don’t want to have Thanksgiving without FG.

It’s not as if we would have physically been together this year, especially with COVID rampaging across the country, but we would have talked and texted and I would’ve sent her pictures of the food I made after consulting her about the right proportions of ingredients. Some of our family recipes are vague. For the stuffing, if it’s too dry you add more broth. If it’s too wet you add more dry ingredients. Every batch of stuffing is unique and special. I don’t usually make deviled eggs, but she made them perfectly. I was thinking about making some for tomorrow but I can’t call her for a reminder about whether or not she adds a little mustard in with the mayonnaise.

Today we had a wonderful surprise visit from two alpacas and a baby goat for my brother-in-law’s birthday. I would have loved to FaceTime FG during this encounter to see her reaction, which I know would have been expressive. I would print extra copies of the photos to send her at Christmas.

Every year I would choose one of my favorite novels that I’d read that year and I’d send her a copy for Christmas. Every February I would send her a valentine.

There is a picture of my parents and my kids and me with FG the last time we all visited, in early summer. It’s on my bulletin board above my desk and I look at it every day. It’s not the best photo of FG. Near the end of her life she had lost weight and her face changed shape. She seemed to be caving in on herself. I don’t think she was putting her teeth in most of the time. In the last few months she seemed to have aged 10 years. But I look at this picture anyway and look in everyone’s eyes and imagine what they were thinking and feeling at that moment.

I think FG was in some amount of pain then, even though she wouldn’t have said so to all of us. But she’s smiling as if she was happy we were there. That day when the photo was taken, she said something to me about when she would be able to come up to Virginia to visit again. I don’t know if she really thought that would happen or she was just talking. I would give anything to pick her up at the train station one more time.

I am thankful for so many people and so many things, but I am also broken-hearted this Thanksgiving. Not only because I miss FG, and I know other people I love are also desperately wishing she were here. But also for the family and friends of the nearly one and a half million people who have died from COVID. It’s hard to even comprehend. And I am heartbroken for the people I know who have lost a parent this year—whether from the coronavirus or another cause. Bethany, Bean, Melissa, Lee, Mark, Paige, Dave and Jim. And for the children and parents taken away from each other by our government at the US-Mexico border. And for the friends and family of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the innocent people who were killed by police this year and over the centuries.

There are many more disasters and tragedies I could name, but I won’t. And of course there are just as many blessings and opportunities and fragments of goodness we’ve managed to cling to during these crushing circumstances. I will list some of those another time. For now I will just be thankful that I had FG in my life for 46 years. I hope she will be whispering in my ear when I make the stuffing to let me know when it looks just right.

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