The world is not supposed to be like this.
The skies are supposed to be an unobstructed blue. Wild strawberries are supposed to cover the fields. Dogs are supposed to smile.
Someone is not to die every forty-nine seconds of a disease we hardly understand and had not heard of a few short months ago.
My mother told me that her mother died of the Spanish flu. She remembers calling to her every night, “mom are you there?” And her mom would gently reply, “I am here my love.” Until one night there was no reply.
My uncle Tex. You remember, the one that had the farm show and recorded our conversation when we visited and gave you an orange basket of red onions? He told you stories of your grandfather’s first Model T and me as a young, gangly girl visiting the farm?
Well… he had polio. Which he caught at the county fair where he was showing his cows. He was in the hospital for four months and when he was home my aunt massaged his legs so he could crawl into the barn to oversee what was happening. He always had a limp.
I remember filing down a hall in elementary school to take a sugar cube with a red dot. The Salk vaccine. Some of the sugar cubes had it. Some had sugar water.
But that wasn’t everything. I remember air raid drills to hide under my desk in elementary school because of the imminent bombing by Russia during the cold war.
I won third prize in the fifth grade science fair by building a three-story house showing what the roentgen level was on each floor after a nuclear attack in a nearby city. Black ribbons connected rooms of the house with those horrific levels. It proved that the underground fallout shelter was the only way to survive.
John Kennedy was shot. Bobby Kennedy was shot. Martin Luther King was shot. Friends got drafted. Vietnam happened. AIDS started to decimate New York and San Francisco and the government ignored it all.
And then two planes took down the World Trade Center.
I sat with you and didn’t want you to see it. But I know you did. And I felt like the ground had been pulled from me. From us.
After your brother died I read every Buddhist book I could find. How did I keep moving through this impossible life? How? I wanted to hold you and never let go. Protect you from this existence I didn’t understand.
I read something at that time. In one of my books. It seemed so simple. But from an athletic place so different from me. So not me.
“Life is an ocean. Learn how to surf.”
When I was in my twenties and faced adversity, I thought that if I got though this one thing, everything that followed would be smooth. Smooth sailing as they say.
But that hasn’t been true.
One unexpected wave followed the next. Some holding me underwater. Some knocking me over. Some I could surf.
Lily, in your very short life, you have faced things no one should have to face in a lifetime. In several lifetimes.
It is not fair. But this is the same ocean that continues to toss me around. This is the unforgiving ocean of tidal waves and tsunamis and crocodiles and islands of plastic refuse.
But also remember, sweet girl, it is the ocean that gently covers your toes when you stand on its shore watching the fading sunset. And the ocean where I held you on my hip and we jumped the waves letting the water joyously bounce us along the shore. This is the ocean you sailed along feeling the wind tousling your hair and separating you from any cares life had ever presented. The ocean that gives you sand dollars and lobsters and mermaids and Nemo and Dory.
I don’t know how long this pandemic will last. I don’t know how you protect yourself. I don’t know if elderberry syrup will help. Or vitamin C. Or staying ten feet from everyone you know. Or when you can return to your apartment and feel safe doing your laundry and walking your dog.
I don’t know.
But, my beautiful girl, grab your surfboard. Be vigilant. Know that the wave that builds up behind you can help you plan your footing ahead. Look for for the starfish, follow the mantas… but be aware of the sharks.
I love you.