Pictured above: Flowers staged a riot in the midst of the pandemic, March 19, 2020.

All the way back in May of 2020, our former columnist Tim Kelly, who has since decamped for the great north woods of Maine, mused in this space that Covid-19 seemed to be “The Longest Running Show Ever!” 

Oh, boy, how little did we know then.

Two years on now since the first deadly wave tightened its grip around the East End, the early days of the pandemic are a snowglobe of a memory of empty streets, takeout bags, heart-rending late night phone calls and the bursts of spring flowers that mocked us throughout that initial spring.

It started with ‘Oh hi crocuses! Why the hell are you so cheerful today?’ By the time we’d fully lost track of the days on our calendars, a cascade of cherry blossoms was hitting the ground among trees holding on to drooping magnolias, swaying in the breeze in time to the music of speeding ambulances wailing up and down the empty arteries of our hurricane evacuation routes. 

By the time Tim christened Covid the longest running show ever, we were just beginning to sew handmade masks to abide by the new state mandate. Forget surgical masks or N-95s. Those were a hot commodity reserved exclusively for health care workers.

And then it just dragged on. And on. We forgot the sound of laughter around the kitchen table. We forgot the correct count of our neighbors’ grandchildren, or maybe even our own. Inviting a friend over for coffee seemed like an exotic or possibly regrettable idea. Our pinkies developed a knack for muting and unmuting ourselves in our computer boxes at the perfect moment to avoid the unprofessionalism of having our colleagues witness our dogs barking or our children arguing or, god forbid, a coughing fit somewhere in our houses.

And now, two more cycles around the sun, we’re blinking in the bright late-winter sunshine and contemplating strange ideas like St. Patrick’s Day parades, chumming it up in a crowded bar, hugging and handshakes, conference rooms, music festivals, craft shows, ice cream socials. 

Pessimism seems to be the flavor of the day, even among friends who had told us two years ago that they were just plain done with the pandemic. 

Make a plan to do something like go to a rock concert and tell your friends about it. Dollars to donuts you won’t have to tell too many people before you get some tsking and a reminder that plans these days are designed to be broken.

But are they? Our capacity for hope was derailed by Omicron this winter, when it seems like everyone got Covid for Christmas. Here we go again with the longest show on earth. We stocked up on chicken and toilet paper, turned on the news and just waited out another round, and if you aren’t just completely done with it all by now, well maybe the truth is you’re not human.

When lilacs last darkened our dooryards in the second pandemic spring, there was hope to be found in outdoor cafés, in concerts in the parks, in the solidarity built in the first wave of grief and upheaval.

This spring, shell-shocked, we’re now venturing forth again, humbled but heartened. The threat of war can’t dampen the lure of unpausing plans to see the world, to dip your toes in a new sea, to plan concerts, weddings, exhibitions and other such great happenings. Breathe it all in. We don’t know how long this lull will last, but we do know now how to savor the good days and rebuild our capacity for hope.

We’ve all internalized the message the riot of flowers were sending us that very first spring — we’re truly now steel  star magnolias, ready to face the world ahead.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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