Photo credit: Michael Donovan https://www.instagram.com/themichaeldonovan/

The ambient tension of these strange days has bubbled together until the visibility of what lies in the past and in the future is so hazy that I feel like I’m trapped in a fog. Maybe knowing what to expect was always a mirage we clung to – and now the truth has been exposed, and can never be covered up again.

By now, everyone knows someone who has been sick with it. You might even know someone who has died. In places that were built upon the ability to extend love and encouragement through a physical medium like a simple hug, there is a six foot trench we’ve all had to dig between us. A gulf exists that was not there before – it’s not that it cannot be crossed, but the distance is loud. It screams at us all and we just want to turn it off for a few minutes.

“Ambient tension” is the term I heard someone use for what this year has been. What we assumed – stupidly – would be a wave to hit another country, something far off, crashed inevitably here and we allowed the torrent to pull us all away with the tide. The heaviness in the air of 2020 is the unrelenting reminder that something silent awaits many – if not most – of us, and that most of us will be fine. But some will not. There’s a need to punctuate that fact.

And something else bubbles up in that tension – the knowledge that a wedge has been placed in the American psyche, some kind of deep, gut-twisting division that we don’t know who or what will dissolve. 

Now 2020 feels like a rope tied around my waist, dragging me through the water while I struggle to catch my breath. Seven months ago, I left my office on a Friday, expecting that I’d probably see my coworkers on Monday. That did not happen. Six months ago, my grandmother died alone – unable to have any physical visitors other than loved ones who came to her window and tried to communicate to her when her eyes were cloudy and her body was giving out. She didn’t even understand that there was truly a global pandemic happening.

I don’t know if she died thinking we had abandoned her. I have a very difficult time handling that.

Also six months ago, a beloved friend and coworker died suddenly, and at his funeral, we all had to make that split-second decision that has defined so much of 2020:

Is this a moment worthy of a hug?

Will an elbow bump not quite capture the gravity of this?

I remember the hugs. It was like we leaned into something strangely forbidden and breathed each other in, virus be damned, and stood in rebellion together for one brief, beautiful moment.

Everything is loud. That’s the thing about an enduring silence that is interrupted only by the screaming of a child…the ding of emails…the crashing of a glass…the unrelenting buzz of social media…an absence of community where you are just so sure there was once something. When you turn off everything, you can really hear the sounds of your home. I’ve learned that in the 200-plus days since my last “Corona-post.”

An anger bubbles up in me weekly, but it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly who or what I’m upset with. Is it the leadership that seems bound to fail us? Or maybe the pushy meme culture of those who think our value still pours from productivity? Is it the shower I’ve tried – unsuccessfully – to take all day, or maybe the middle-aged knee that is nagging me when all I really want is to walk about in the woods and think nothing off the disarray this year has strewn about? Or perhaps it’s the assumption that because I don’t _____ (vote this way, cancel this thing, post this thing, agree with this other thing), I am not ______ (usually: “A decent human”).

That anger just sits there. It is loud. I may not say it, but something about living, about mothering in 2020 has ignited a certain rage, and I see it in women everywhere, women of all ages, backgrounds, colors, professions, and politics. Something vital to the structures we’ve built society on has been glossed over, and for the first time in my life, I feel like there will be no more rugs to sweep things under. I wonder if it will ever be quiet again, the way it was when this all first unfolded.

Something about peeling back the structures (schools, offices, uninhibited gatherings, etc.) that felt so normal to us before has exposed something much darker:

That maybe…just maybe…this wasn’t working as well as we thought it was.

At all.

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