It’s been striking to us to hear so many stories lately from people who seem to be sinking under the weight of what we’ve all lost in the past two-plus years — not only the stories of loss of friends to Covid or diseases they’d left untreated because of Covid, but also stories of the paused careers, faded loves, depression and addiction that are just now being brought into the light as we begin to resume our pre-pandemic lives.
We’d been living here on the hope that emergence from the pandemic would spark a new Renaissance, a pent-up creative hotbed that would spur excitement, perhaps something like our gilded romantic ideas about what the Roaring 20s were all about.
We don’t know anyone who actually remembers living through the Roaring 20s — but we do know plenty of romantics, and those are the people who seem to be struggling the most right now. Real life just isn’t measuring up to our idealized view of reality.
Just prior to the pandemic, in the depth of the winter of 2019 to 2020, recovering from surgery and deep in processing some personal losses, our editor and her since-departed canine friend took to the pine forest of Flanders, walking deep into the woods, calling out for answers to the questions that grief forces you to confront, searching out for a signpost from the people we’ve loved who have left this world, asking them how to proceed with our lives when they are no longer here.
In that month’s editorial, “Gratitude for This Peaceful Place,” we talked about an idea gaining traction among people who are concerned about climate change. Instead of seeking the most remote place possible like the much-caricatured doomsday preppers, these folks argue, we should seek out the places with strong, capable communities, “places where people care for their neighbors, know how to grow their food, fix their cars and engineer solutions to all sorts of everyday problems they face.”
In the months, and now years, after that editorial, so much has happened to prove to us that these capable communities are vital. The courage we all mustered to be there for each other in the early days of the pandemic may have waned, but the volunteer spirit — in our food pantries, recovery communities, fire and emergency medical services, hospitals and civic associations — is still alive and well. In fact, the people who have made the commitment of service to others seem to have tapped into a deep pool of giving, and into a network of people who are committed to the same goals as them. That is a self-sustaining system.
Despite all the hurt we are witnessing, our helpers are stronger than ever, and they are up for the challenges ahead.
We closed that 2019 editorial on gratitude pledging to “remember the strength of this community that we are all working to build, put faith in our neighbors each day the sun rises on our peaceful place, and work to be the neighbor that we’d like to have.”
Now is the perfect time to recommit to that pledge.
We ventured back into these woods in Flanders in late August of this year, fighting off mosquitoes and tick nymphs that you won’t find there in the short days before the changing year, missing the family, friends and our trusted canine, all of whom we have lost in the black hole of the past two years.
Deep in this forest, the pine saplings are being crowded out by oak. It’s a natural succession, to be expected as an ecosystem matures, but it’s a striking change to those of us who have grown up believing the pine barrens would always be the pine barrens.
Among the oak saplings, there are still some of our characteristic dwarf pitch pines, whose green cones, untouched by fire, hold the secrets of the happiness of the pre-pandemic world.
Things will be different in the future, of course, but perhaps they will be better than before if we hold on to the lessons we’ve learned through these hard years.