Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Easter Looked Like This Year (Dyer)


They placed an Easter basket on our porch. Then the four of them, all masked, sat on the steps and we talked through the glass of our storm door, the speakers of our cell phones turned on. Our voices traveled down the silent street of our Ohio town.

That’s what Easter looked like this year. The table in our dining room had no plates on it and no ham. No one would be coming inside. It wasn’t like other years.

There may be a few centenarians who have some faint memory of the influenza of 1918—known as the Spanish Flu—but the rest of us are new to a world consumed by a deadly virus, this one named “corona” for the halo of its spikes. My uncle’s father died of Spanish Flu in 1918, and he always shook his head when he told the story. I can’t presume to know what this meant.

The Easter basket was a small white dishpan lined with green paper grass—a bac à vaisselle, a sticker said. Nestled inside were a tall plastic container of disinfectant wipes, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of toilet paper and one of paper towels, a bar of soap, and eight bite-sized candy bars.

When they left, we found a dozen eggs beside the basket—brightly colored with fresh Easter-egg dye. Only later did we remove them from their plastic carton and discover drawings or words on the sides of many. My husband has made sourdough products for decades, so there, in caps, were WAFFLES and SOURDOUGH. In felt-tip blue was a little bird that resembled our older grandson’s parakeet. On several of the eggs were two dots for eyes, two raised eyebrows, and surgical masks drawn over the rest of the “face” —four slightly crooked lines extending from each corner and heading toward the back of the egg, where, we were asked to imagine, it would be secured.

The drawings startled me at first. Where were the cute chicks and pink bunnies that I remembered helping our own son transfer onto Easter eggs when he was a child? There was so much tension and worry in those high brows and those wide masks filled in with marker.

But it all fit. The masks on the eggs, like those on our faces, were what our lives looked like now. Our grandsons were painting what they saw and what had caught their attention. But I wondered if it was more than that. Their mother is a nurse, and were they learning science in her kitchen? Were they staring at present danger and mounting a defense—for themselves and for people that the good guys in their simple worlds of superheroes always fought to protect? Egg after egg bore the mask.

This is the moment in history that we occupy, and children know it. They will be the ones who write the story of Covid-19 years and years from now.

Stores are beginning to open up, but we’re not all right. Yesterday we woke to the news that 100,000 people had died in the US. Woke to predictions that there would be 135,000-200,000 dead by August. As we slowly consider how to exit our homes (those of us who haven’t been summoned months ago by essential jobs), the everyday that we once stepped so thoughtlessly into has vanished. Our footing is insecure.

Many of us will remain in semi-quarantine and others will engage in activities that bear little resemblance to the way we remember them. The health club I belong to will reopen in June but social distancing and masks will be enforced by “Wellness Warriors,” temperatures will be taken at the front desk before a member enters, and showers, towel service, childcare, exercise groups, drinking fountains, and use of the basketball court, saunas, pool, and steam rooms have all been suspended. The club is affiliated with a hospital, and its managers are doing exactly what science demands.

That’s how things look right now. And epidemiologists tell us they’re likely to look that way for quite a while—some say as long as a decade, even with a vaccine, though the virus will become less deadly over time. My rheumatologist at the University of Pittsburgh, with whom I had a telemedicine conference in April, insisted I not come to the city for a face-to-face appointment in October because she expected a second wave of Covid by then. We scheduled a Zoom meeting instead.

No one knows what will happen, of course, and I wish for the best. But I need to learn as much as I can—and as quickly—about how to live in the new everyday. It’s not entirely different from the way most people have always tried to live their lives—watching out for their own safety and showing deep respect for other people—but the rules are more difficult now and the consequences of any lapse are great.

 Pink rabbits and fluffy yellow chicks of former days have been displaced. The strange image of the masked eggs produced in the kitchen laboratory of my grandsons stays with me as spring moves to summer and the months proceed to mount.

Their tacit message is clear:

Decorate your life with truth.  

Joyce Dyer is the author of three memoirs, In a Tangled Wood, Gum-Dipped, and Goosetown, and the editor of two collections. She has published essays in North American Review, The New York Times, and Writer's Chronicle. A new book titled Pursuing John Brown: On the Trail of a Radical Abolitionist is scheduled for release in 2020.

1 comment:

  1. Joyce, thank you. "Decorate your life with truth." Those Easter eggs will stay with me. Marsha M.