This morning, like so many lately, low hanging clouds seem tempted to become freezing fog, and I gaze at gray skies above snow-covered roofs and lawns, empty street and driveways, and stark leafless trees. None of the condos across from ours show signs of life, as if, like me, none of my neighbors feel the urge to rise and start the day. I witness no bustle anywhere. For a moment I pretend my glumness is not mine alone but, since I don't interact with my neighbors, I can't verify that assumption. I've often allowed myself winter blues, but I know it isn't only the weather affecting me.
I keep reacting to the times we live in. The pandemic that has killed so many people and broken so many families will continue to surge while, in America at least, efforts at prevention and healing will constantly be hampered; the impact of climate change with its fires, floods, storms, and species extinction will increase while we continue to exploit the earth. If I scroll through posts on Facebook or check online news at NPR or CNN, my levels of foreboding rise. The president who in his single term decimated every aspect of American life I value—education, environment, employment, health care, human rights—continues relentlessly to undermine the democracy, this week inspiring riots in our Capitol building. I want to be cheered by the presidential election and the shift of power in the Senate out of the hands of committed hypocrites but still feel the weight of uncertainty and tension.
I lived through the last half of the 20th Century. It had abundant moments of social and political and environmental upheaval but, living the life of a reasonably well-educated and relatively solvent citizen, a reliable worker and responsible family man, I usually felt like a distant observer, a bystander only vaguely distracted by the news of the world. So far, the 21st Century hasn't provided any reassurance about my remoteness from the public sphere. If anything, it's been heightening my remoteness from the most intimate aspects of my own life.
I'm now at the age my grandparents were in my youth, when their siblings were passing on and I attended their funerals with my parents, not always certain who the person we were mourning had been or who he or she had been related to, seldom recognizing that person's offspring, often unsure if I had ever even met that person before. Now I tune in to year-end recitals of the prominent deceased, remembering some songs they recorded or a film they appeared in or one or more of their books. Often, they are either my age or the age my grandmother was at her death or occasionally younger and I nod when someone says they left too soon. I check birthdates in all obituaries.
In 2019 my sister, my cousin, my aunt, and my closest colleague all died, and I learned of earlier deaths of relatives and friends I hadn't known about. I attended only one funeral before planned memorials were postponed by the spread of the pandemic. In mid-2020 my younger brother died unexpectedly, his funeral put off indefinitely. All these occasions would have required travel and none of their bereaved wanted friends and loved ones to gather until . . .well, whenever it would be safe. For all of us, any sense of closure has been curtailed indefinitely, any acceptance of their absences suspended.
There are absences among the living as well. We haven't visited our son in California in over a year, will not be with our daughter in Florida and her family for most of the year ahead, see our daughter in Wisconsin and her family half an hour away only intermittently, only wearing masks, social distancing, and air hugging. Too often I feel confined in our condo, less a home now than a cell or a fortress under siege. I'm challenged by the lack of connection I feel with the people I love most and with the outer world in general and haunted by the awareness of the deaths I've distantly experienced of family members and friends.
And the very world we live in seems tormented by uncertainty, its air suffused with the virility of the pandemic, its democracy reeling, our daily existence nothing we can comfortably take for granted. I keep looking out my windows, noticing that the fog has lifted though the sky is still all one single shade of gray-white. I look off to the southeast. I wonder if there's any chance of sun at all.