This weekend Little Bear and I did something we hadn’t done for over a year; we made the drive down to Bozeman, hung out, ate good food, visited the dinosaur museum (aka the Museum of the Rockies), rode bikes, and went skiing. We also made an unexpected, late drive back home through darkness and a few snow squalls after we found the road to the cabin unexpectedly drifted in, which made for a good opportunity to discuss flexibility and managing disappointment. It was a very pleasant day, a reminder that in central Montana one can ride bikes on dirt and ski deep snow within a fairly short span of time and distance. It was also an expansion of a world which has felt, logistically and more relevantly, psychologically, cloistered for the past year.
Our family has been modestly impacted by the pandemic, relative to many. We live in a spacious house, with a spacious yard. We live in a place that has easy access to both city parks and nearby wilderness. That place has, due to social peculiarities, benefited from both the relative isolation of a small city in Montana (cases and panic here never got that high) and the cohesion of a more urbane population (symbolic mask refusal and pandemic denial has been vastly less in evidence) provides. Most importantly, our habits better fit into the COVID routine than seem true for most. We are not overly social creatures. Eliminating things like eating inside restaurants, going to theatres, and attending big parties only make minute indentations in the fabric of routine. Our vacations are similarly little impacted. Seeing friends and family have come with an extra layer of anxiety and complication, and helping LB start kindergarten half-online was far more difficult than I anticipated. Most most importantly, I both like and love my family and am married to someone around whom I can never spend enough time. Most days the past year the benefits easily submerge the stressors.
Last week Little Bear went back to school almost full time, the demands of which were part of the cause for our outing. Again here we are fortunate; he has an unusually small class at one of the smaller public elementary schools, along with a teacher and principal we trust to not be blasé, and even so sending him back (as opposed to putting him all online) was the hardest choice I can recall having to make. My concern for all of us, our nuclear family as well as the human family, is how we will fare on the current path back to normalcy. From many perspectives, this will never be possible. The world will never give back those who died this past year, and the United States, as an idea, died a not inconsiderable amount in our embarrassing national response to the pandemic. Moving on can be a healthy, necessary short term response to grief. Long term, forgetting cannot.
But it is too easy, when lost in sadness, to not celebrate daily and weekly victories. And with something as vague as a national, or worldwide, recovery neglecting to put up those signposts seems like a good way to get lost. People are being vaccinated. Cases are going down. Kids are going back to school. Yet in some states, like ours, teachers as a class are not getting vaccinated. Kristi Noem is claiming competency on the back of last year, and put up a creepy billboard in Salt Lake. A third, or fourth, wave might be brewing, with more infectious variants. As has perhaps been the case all along, we are being cautious where we don’t need to be, and lax only where it easy, rather than as a matter of intention. Little wonder that normal will be hard to recognize, save in retrospect.