Ways to Forget

In an episode of my favorite podcast, the Anthropocene Reviewed, host John Green describes an experience in his childhood of temporarily not remembering a friend’s death:

When I was young, a friend of mine died, and afterwards, I would wake up each morning and for a moment I would not be aware of her death, and I’d feel normal for just a millisecond before the great stifling curtain of grief descended. Sometimes, I would try to go to sleep just so I could wake up and have that precious moment of innocence, of relief.

John Green, Works of Art by Agnes Martin and Hiroyuki Doi

On our minds right now are focused almost entirely on the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts, keeping us disconnected, keeping us inside. It’s hard to think of much else. Unlike John Green, I do not have a brief moment in the morning after I wake up when I don’t yet recall the coronavirus ravaging through our society.

Until yesterday, I didn’t know anyone infected. I knew people with symptoms who tested negative. I knew people with symptoms who have since recovered and never got tested. I knew of friends of friends who had been infected. Now I know someone infected, a friend from high school.

Even though in the mornings, I wake up thinking about the pandemic—though still very comfortably in my bed, I must add—there are times when I can briefly forget.

On Friday, I had an hourlong program review at work. Despite being on a video call in separate locations, I was enough engrossed by the discussion and presentation that things felt normal again.

Yesterday, on my walk to an outdoor grocery market, I passed by a house with a Prius that I really like. It’s a quintessential progressive Prius, deep navy blue with a single bumper sticker about taking an adventure through reading books. In the small yard is a Bernie Sanders lawn sign. The owners were getting into the car. I’d never known who the owners were. They appeared to be a couple around my age. Interesting. That was it. I had momentarily forgotten and things felt normal again. Then I proceeded to the outdoor market with chalk circles on the ground 6 ft apart and a mandatory hand washing station at the entrance. They had paper towels to dry, but I brought my own.

Some of the best case scenario predictions, assuming strict social distancing and similar measures continuously, describe peak toll on Massachusetts on April 12. In two days from now, we will likely run out of hospital beds. If things go well, most cases should dwindle by mid-May. Perhaps as soon as early June, restrictions on movement and business closures may begin to lift. But after that, how long will it be before people are comfortable shaking hands again, hugging again, going to crowded spaces again?

It’s going to be a long few months. Find the things that force you into being unaware, at least for a few moments. They’re keep the dream of normal alive until we’re through this.