exactly one year ago today the girls went to school with empty bags to empty out their lockers. at the time, like most of the world, we assumed this would be a 2–3-week hiatus; all we needed was a good break from close personal contact, a proper disinfection of the school building, and some time for authorities to get a handle on this novel coronavirus and get things under control. then everything would quickly go back to “normal”.
my family had already made so many plans for the upcoming months that a part of me was thrilled to have a little downtime before we all started flying all over the place. if all had gone as expected, i would have flown back and forth from istanbul to the u.s. at least three times in spring of 2020. one trip we had planned was a college visit tour with asya and alara that would have taken us from coast to coast with a stop in chicago too!
it was also the summer of erim and my 20th wedding anniversary. although we hadn’t planned anything for that yet, i had high hopes of spending a long weekend in the south of france; celebrating with leisurely lunches, walks on the beach and beautiful wines.
and of course, we had planned on spending a huge chunk of time in asheville. my nephew teddy would turn two- and he was walking and talking and perfect for cuddling. alegra was all signed up for sleepaway camp in the mountains, asya and alara were going to intern for the democratic presidential campaign, and i would finally have time to complete my yoga teacher training. all this was already on the books.
instead, like almost everyone i know, we’ve been mainly at home. although the arrival of warm summer weather, and the availability of our boat in the south of turkey, allowed us to move around much more freely than before, we were still so nervous and careful. we drove back and forth to the coast- 8 hours each way- only ate in outdoor settings; and really debated whether or not it was safe to have my parents join us for a week on the boat. knowing what i know now, i am so grateful that we took advantage of the lull in the virus and only wish that we had recognized just how good we had it then!
unlike some of our peers, erim and i have tended to err on the side of caution throughout this period. my refrain has become something along the lines of, “everybody has to take on their own burden of risk”. despite sometimes facing criticism, we have made a point of only socializing in open air spaces. istanbul’s traditionally damp winter weather is not really conducive to this- although we have remained valiant in our efforts to connect with people we care about- we’ve purchased multiple outdoor heaters, become proficient fire pit tenders and frequently invoke alfred wainright’s well-known quote that, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
and thus, as we hit this one-year anniversary of our lockdown and a complete upheaval of life as we knew it, i sat down this morning to make a list of all the things we’ve learned and gained.
however, all i can think about is all that we’ve lost.
while i am keenly aware that my family has felt the repercussions of the pandemic much less acutely than so many others, the state in which the world finds itself brings me unimaginable sorrow. i am sad not just for the things that my family has had to give up, but for humanity as a whole.
so many lives have been lost over the past 12 months; and so often unnecessarily.
thousands of people have lost their jobs; and so many women have been forced to leave their careers unexpectedly to care for their now homebound children. this is a terrible setback for womens’ rights around the globe.
millions of people struggling to keep their families afloat have now fallen below the poverty line; and they are scared, hungry and hopeless.
millions of children have lost access to school, setting a whole generation back educationally. tragically, for many of these children this loss also means a simultaneous loss of access to nutritious food. how can millions of children living in new york be dependent on school lunches for their main meal- still, in the twenty-first century?
on a more personal level, i don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered some sort of covid related loss. either the death or severe illness of a loved one, a change in economic situation, a change in life plans, or a sudden need to readjust hopes and dreams.
recognizing all the pain and suffering in the world leaves me ever more appreciative and aware of all that i still have; healthy children, economic stability, a loving partner, a kind and caring community, strength of body and mind.
but as we mark one year of this global pandemic, i cannot yet sit to list the things for which i am grateful.
i am just not finished grieving yet.
as an eternal optimist, i can’t help but believe that this terrible time must lead to something better.
everyone says the next decade will be our roaring twenties. but the historian in me knows that the roaring twenties were followed by the rise of extreme nationalism and fascism and the devastation of world war two.
i don’t want the roaring twenties; i want a roaring change.
i want people to truly care about one another, regardless of race or class, and to try to raise each other up. to work not just for their own sakes, but for the good of all humanity.
i want education to take precedence over production and consumption so we all learn to love and cherish was what already have.
i want us all to recognize that without a healthy environment life as we know it is not possible. we must work together to repair the damage we’ve already done and avoid future damage so that we can all live here on earth more peacefully.
i want simple things, like home-cooked meals and handwritten cards, to be important again so we can all remember to slow down and just care about each other.
i know it’s a lot to want, but the only way i can mitigate the immense grief of this past year is with unbounded hope.
maybe next week i’ll look back on all the wonderful things we gained this year. but this week i feel sad; i am just not finished grieving yet.