Guest columnist Susan Mellstrom: ‘We would if we could, but would we?’

Published: 9/23/2020 5:09:08 PM

“Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.” How about “put it off today so that you will have something to do tomorrow.”

This virus has changed us, turning us into do-gooders unable to do much good and dynamos with nothing to do. The months have drawn on and on, while at the same time flying by. Before it’s over we will have lost a year of our lives while many didn’t live through this year. We curse those who won’t play the game, while forgetting that then and now we can only control ourselves and our own games.

We clean our homes to welcome people who cannot come and hope for holidays not far enough away to be considered. We watch, from afar, the children grow and hope they will take our hug when we can give it. Our heroes have become grocery clerks because we could never thank the caregivers and life-riskers enough for the heavy lifting they have done.

I cook now. I cooked then but not with the same zeal. The drudgery of thinking of and serving a meal every night has become a challenge and a desire, a desire to approach normalcy by doing, everyday, the chore I dreaded then. Food is hope. I have always thrown food at celebration and tragedy alike. It saves me from my forced self-centeredness and produces something to put out there. It’s not enough.

Production is what we have lost, in terms of our jobs and businesses, in terms of accepting a paltry check each week to keep us home and not tempted to produce anything. It makes us lazy in a way, legitimizing our nonproduction. “We would if we could.” Would we?

The big picture is unacceptable, despicable and un-imaginable, so we play our hands close to the chest, embracing a world no bigger than our family and friends. Because we can’t see beyond ourselves, we are surprised, ashamed, unable to place blame fast enough although our blame aim is often askew. We don’t know who to believe so we believe no one, while we pledge our very lives to the tenet that someone, somewhere is doing something.

It isn’t despair exactly, more a melting pot of soul-searching. Wondering what the meaning of life really is, wondering whether we have spent this god-given time putting ourselves to little use, wondering if and when it will end, wondering if we will forget, wondering if we will make ourselves remember.

The repercushions of this pandemic will linger on in our minds and bodies, thankful for our good fortune in the face of death and sorrowful for those who did not fare as well.

Sadness is where we land. It is not human nature to give up so our hopes soar, hoping that the new normal when it comes will approach our memories of an acceptable life, that the people we love will reappear, that our jobs, though different, will lure us back to fending for ourselves, and that the experience of this measure of our life, whether feeling lost or lonely or changed or even inspired will evaporate into new strength, tinged with a note of sadness.

Susan Mellstrom lives in Plainfield.

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