A couple months ago I listened to a podcast in which Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite writers and outside-the-box thinkers, posited that in a decade or so we’ll see multiple essays by writers about how they miss the days of quarantine, “when I was with my kids every day and they were still the age when they wanted to cuddle up and snuggle with me.”
“This is why memory is totally [expletive] worthless,” Klosterman said. “It’s like it’s almost idiotic to value your memories, because they’re all false. They’re just the injection of emotion into these kinds of visual audio remnants in your mind.”
Eventually he’ll be proven correct, I’m sure, because we’ve already started moving in that direction. We’re still primarily resentful for having our lives upended, devastated by the enormous loss of life, and scared of what’s to come. But like the title character in Monty Python’s brilliant “Life of Brian,” we can’t help but “look at the bright side of life,” even when faced with an ever-present and constantly evolving tragedy.
Like Klosterman, I also have young children, and though they’ve driven me nuts for roughly 75 percent of their waking hours since February or March, I still feel closer to them now than I did before. Gone, for now, are their maddening one-word answers to my repeated and rephrased questions about what they did at school that day; there’s no need to ask when we share a dining-room table that serves as a classroom for them, an office for me.
On that point, perhaps the upshot of our being forced to open impromptu home offices is that employers, having seen that businesses can be productive without everyone on location, will be more amenable to parents who request permission to work remotely so they can take care of their children.
We’ve also found that videoconferencing apps such as Zoom can enrich our Jewish traditions. In the absence of in-person prayer, many Conservative and liberal congregations have permitted streaming prayer services, which have been meaningful to many and will likely continue in some form when synagogues fully reopen. The wealth of online prayer options has also provided Jews with the opportunity to sample services at synagogues around the world without leaving their living rooms. Orthodox synagogues, which don’t permit Zoom services, will realize that they can reach a larger audience by streaming weekday classes when congregants are finally allowed to attend in person.
A little while ago I received a letter — yes, an actual, physical letter, delivered by an employee of the United States Postal Service — from close childhood friends inviting my family to the virtual bar mitzvah of their son, rather than the in-person event they had been planning. I felt especially badly for the bar mitzvah boy, that the crisis was robbing him of his ability to celebrate our culture’s most basic expression of reaching adolescence. But upon signing onto Zoom on the day of the bar mitzvah, I was heartened to see the outpouring of joy from the family, as well as from the approximately 400 people watching online. That they were apart from guests and relatives, and that he would have to wait to read from the Torah, seemed to do little to dampen the celebration.
At times like these it’s easy to forget the effect Covid-19 has had on our lives for the last four to five months.
But please, don’t.
Don’t forget that a bad situation is still bad even when you make the most of it.
Don’t forget that there are already more than 130,000 Americans dead from Covid-19, a number that is probably severely undercounting the fatalities, and definitely far, far lower than we can expect in the final tally.
Don’t forget that our families were forced to stay apart for the Passover seder and that our observance of the upcoming High Holidays remains uncertain.
Don’t forget that high school and college seniors were deprived of the graduation day they’ve been working toward for years.
Don’t forget about the Jews around the world who couldn’t say Kaddish or Yizkor for their relatives.
Don’t forget the mortal fear we felt in March and April each time we went to the grocery store, or our concern for those who live in coronavirus hotspots.
Don’t forget that even though it’s imperative everyone wears a mask outside, it’s not normal, and we should never treat it that way.
Don’t forget that studies now show that remote learning is far less effective than classroom learning, and our children will be behind no matter what form of school they return to in the fall.
Don’t forget the parents who could not hug their children as they buried loved ones.
Don’t forget that our so-called leader refused to sound the alarm for weeks, or even months, out of concern for his own political prospects.
Don’t forget that in refusing to take steps to slow the spread of the virus, he prolonged it, thereby worsening the inevitable economic crash he tried to prevent by sacrificing our lives.
Don’t forget that his allies chose to remain silent rather than cross him.
Don’t forget that even now he’s willing to risk our lives by ignoring medical experts and trying to reopen the country in a desperate effort to get reelected.
Don’t forget that this isn’t worth the symbolism of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.
Don’t forget that when asked who is to blame, he responded: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
Don’t forget that it didn’t have to be this bad.
Don’t forget that it’s not over yet.
Don’t forget that there’s something we can do about it this fall.