by Robert P. Barsanti
On Easter morning, I woke up late. The boys remained under their covers, illuminated by their phones. The jelly bean trails had led them to their late adolescent Easter baskets, then back to bed. Some traditions continue just for the sake of the parents. We’re too fragile to admit that the boys might be too old this year for a hundred jelly beans strewn across the floor. But they have kind hearts and indulge us our nostalgia.
Outside, the season proceeds apace. The clouds roll and tumble overhead, outriders on another heavy blow. In the marsh, spring has occurred in spots and splashes; the grasses and branches remain gray and brown, but forsythias and daffodil pop through the murk. The grass around the house has greened up, and our more domestic flowers have pushed up into the November of an island spring. The rest of the yard doesn’t trust what it sees and remains tucked under the blankets.
Next door, a heavy branch has fallen from a gnarled old oak. It lay across the gravel driveway, waiting for the team of landscapers to come and chop it up, right after they get the flower beds ready and prep the lawn. But not, perhaps, this spring. At another moment, when the skies are less fraught, I will go over and do what I can. We have a responsibility, written or unwritten, rich or poor.
Nobody knows what the summer will bring. We all hope for the calendars of the past; filled with fishing, beaches, and long lines for ice cream. But that hope remains cruel and taunting; it only lives in the mouths of the salesmen and the sharks. We want to believe that the AirBnB reservations will be filled, that billionaires will still come to steak night, and the lines will form outside the Chicken Box. The cement reality of quarantine and the virus scrapes our elbows and knees. The toilet paper laughs at us, and the face masks giggle. The past is a myth that we need to believe: the future is a hope that we dare not trust. The pregnant present sits on the couch watching Netflix and eating popsicles.
It’s not a snow day. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a long weekend.
The virus has hurled most of the pleasant fibs away from our lives. The old island lie of millionaires mowing the lawns of billionaires has been wiped and flushed away. As has the essential labor of the realtors and interior decorators; nurses, postmen, linemen, and cops are stepping up, carrying on, and getting sick for all of us. As we Clap for the Carers, ask how many of them can afford to live out here?
When the music stopped in March, the poor remained absurdly vulnerable. They are checking out groceries, cleaning the Island Home, or waiting for the unemployment money to come. The house cleaners, landscapers, and painters are lining up for the food pantry and covering their mouths with t-shirts. The rest of us, the lucky few, sit inside and calculate how many checks we can write and how many we can just smile about. Without a trust fund, clinging to Nantucket requires good friends, sleight of hand, and a cooperative calendar in the best of times. And now, when the music has stopped, even the best of us are living on a prayer.
The change is kicking.
For the lucky few, like me, who have Netflix on four devices and steak in the freezer, we have been stuck with ourselves and our lives. I have been inside for five weeks, and I am too housebound to lie about myself and call it honor. Without barbers and stylists, the truth is pushing its gray way out. Without easy takeout, we find ourselves staring at the stove. Without schools and sports, we find ourselves parenting. Pity, please, the parents who are quarantined with Daddy’s Little Girl and her significant other. In the guest bedroom.
We finally have time for ourselves, whether we like it or not. As Americans, we think we are what we do. I am a builder. I am a teacher. I am a chef. But who are we when we can’t do our jobs? Moreover, we like to believe we are what we buy. I am a Rolex. I am a Ford 350. I am Yeti cooler with Wu-Tang stickers. But now our things don’t impress anyone but the reflection. We have time to ask ourselves who we really are. When you take away the sports, and the friends, and the jobs, who am I?
For some people, the answer is appalling. I am a victim of an abuser. I hurt people. I am numb. For others, the answer is ennobling. I am a carer. I am a helper. I am a creator. But, in this moment, the answer reveals itself every day. We can see it or not, but it is right there in the bathroom mirror. In other times, when the world was not sick, you could go days without seeing the truth. The small cruelties of daily life slid between the meetings and the yoga class. Now, as you wash your hands to “Happy Birthday,” you see who you are. The answer to today’s question has graying hair, Cheeto crumbs, and a healthy respect for the luck that left your airway free of a ventilator.
The change is growing and it will come, whether we want it or not. Somebody will find their oils and canvas, somebody will find a new career in wastewater, and somebody will find a divorce lawyer. The old Roman asks “Can any vital process take place without change?”
If you watch the blades of grass carefully, they twitch in the sunlight. A whole lawn squirms in growth. The green leaves of flowers keep pushing themselves out of the ground, whether we want them to or not. Even the oaks, sleepy and delinquent, feel the rush of rising sap. Even in the November of an island spring, the change is laboring forth.
We don’t know what will be born in a few months. We don’t know what it will grow into. We only know that everything that was true before may not be true anymore. The past has died and we must mourn it. Then we must do our best to raise the future well and, perhaps, it will follow a jelly bean trail on Easter morning.