Take-away, Part II : (Im)Permanence

When we became unmoored, we also got unstuck.

Unmooring is unsettling. Unsticking is unsettling too, but with a frisson of excitement. Unmoored from time, but unstuck from boring routines and bad habits. Untethered from relationships, but unstuck from obligation, toxic positivity, false enthusiasm.

In other words: when everything you take for granted in this life as fact, as inevitable, as required, suddenly ceases to be those things, what do you do? How do you reckon with the upheaval? What dormant opportunities might you seize? In loss, there is opportunity.

Is it all just a matter of how you look at a thing? I read an alarmingly prescient article on Medium back in 2020, about how we should brace ourselves for the biggest gaslighting in history. It’s a fascinating read and, tragically, still pretty relevant. The gist is that someday, when this Pandemic is behind us, we’ll be encouraged to see the event through rose-colored glasses rather than for what it was : gross mismanagement of a public health crisis, the politicization of life and death, a nightmare, really.

Way, way back in June 2021 (pre-Delta, pre-Omicron remember that?), when America took to the streets in a wild, vaccinated party of freedom, I watched, mask twisting in my hands, with a kind of confused horror. I felt like shaking someone — anyone — and going : Am I the only one who lived through that? How is this so easy for you? Are you simply…moving on? What does that feel like?

Was I the one trapped in my fear? Should I get some help for that? I tentatively dipped a toe in the waters: hugged some friends, dined indoors. Boosted, needles in arms, we danced with variants. We moved forward (or so we believed).


A few weeks into the Omicron Chapter, when illness was still something we discussed in the abstract, my husband and I blithely decided that the minute any of us tested positive we would just close the windows and breathe on each other. We were over it. We were ready (we thought) to tangle with the inevitable.

On Monday, February 7, 2022, I tested positive for COVID-19. One year, 11 months after the lockdown. One day before the Governor of California lifted the indoor mask mandate. There I was, sitting in my bed, reading the news, apparently the last person in the state of California to get COVID.

It turns out, I was not ready to infect my family. In the seven, brief days I spent with COVID I wore two masks at all times in my own home. I didn’t touch my children, even once, even when my daughter mournfully cried “I just want to hug you!” I opened every window and ate and drank with my whole face pressed to the outside so I wouldn’t hurt the people inside. I was lonely, frustrated, and strangely ashamed for having gotten sick in the first place — at the END!! When it’s OVER!!

I’ll cut to the punchline and tell you it was a terrible head cold, the result of my privilege as a young(ish), healthy, and vaccinated human without pre-existing conditions. (Of course, these notions of COVID being “harmless” are steeped in ableism and relative youth — not to mention a totally misguided belief that life and disease are predictable. To those who might disagree I can only say : I’m sorry; have you been paying attention? “Predictable” is an outdated concept.)

Overall, I was fine. And of course, it wasn’t over at all.


I was feeling okay but still testing positive the night LittleMan wandered downstairs after bedtime. My husband was gone for the weekend, a much-needed vacation that had been on the books for months.

“You’re still in your Time-Out Chair,” he remarked. (This is the affectionately-named chair we had pulled next to the open window, in the farthest corner of the room.)

“It’s safer for you if I hang here,” I said.

He sighed, flopping his lanky frame on his own chair and gathering a blanket into his lap. “This sucks.”

“I know.”

We sat for a moment in our truths before I confessed : “For what it’s worth, your disappointment is breaking my heart.”

“Don’t worry.” He half-laughed. “We’re so used to it by now.”

“That’s the worst part,” I said.

“I just want things to go back to normal.” He laughed again, that humorless laugh, re-gathered the blanket. “But I don’t even know what that means anymore.”

“I don’t think it exists,” I responded, honestly. “I think there was Before, and there’s After. And After is never going to look like Before. And — I’m so sorry — I think you’re just old enough to know the difference. I know how that feels. I grieve it sometimes.”

“Yeah,” he said. He shook his head, stood, stretched, returned to bed.

I didn’t follow to close his door behind him, say a final goodnight. I stayed by the open window, in my Time-Out Chair.


I have written in the past about missing things these Pandemic years. Missing friends, missing vacations, restaurants, plans, Super Bowl parties, birthday parties … the list goes on and on.

Lately — as we learn to live in the After, re-calculating risk — I don’t have to miss those things as much. But all over this country, people are missing.

Other things are missing too.

Freedoms are missing. Common logic, science, reason: these, apparently, are missing. Even decency seems to exist only on a microscale.

A sense of stability in our society is completely and totally missing.

For two years we couldn’t DO anything, and yet so much damage was done! It was quite a trick, wasn’t it? Of course the gaslighting is underway. Of course it’s easier to talk about mental health than bad laws and bad, so-called leaders who snuck in though the back door of fear and chaos and complacency. Of course! The problem is in our heads! The problem is that we got so unmoored we don’t know which way is up!

Nope. I’m not having it. I think about my weary, insightful 14-year-old and his optimistic, bright-eyed sister and their reluctant acceptance that inconceivable trauma is a part of daily life. I think about them going to school, and going online, and going to get healthcare…I think about them growing up, God willing, and I search my soul for what to do.


The truth is, I’ve been writing this essay for months. I have come back to it again and again for the better part of half a year, because I never felt like I knew the ending. But now I wonder if that’s the existential question we are all wrestling with: How does it end? What if it has? What if it doesn’t?

Most confoundingly: What, exactly, is IT?

For the better part of my 44 years, I thought of challenging times like a tunnel I had to get through. “I just have to get through this chapter,” I would tell myself, and steel myself for the journey. But inherent in this coping mechanism was a question I never really examined. Once the “getting through” had been gotten, once the tunnel had been successfully navigated: what, exactly, did I expect to find on the other side?

It has taken me at least three decades and a global Pandemic to realize that the answer is: More. If I am lucky, at the end of the tunnel, there will be more. More Life. More complicated, unpredictable, moving, and — yes — challenging Life. More unanswered questions. More unexpected joys. Wildfires. Babies. Boosters. Spontaneous trips. Reunions. More tunnels? Maybe. Maybe a river. Maybe an ocean. Maybe a plain, and blue sky, and horizon.

What I’m trying to say is: there never was a tunnel. There is only a path, with hairpin turns and giant boulders and unexpected, breathtaking views. There is only one end, and if I am lucky, it is far, far away.

If I had that late-night conversation with LittleMan to do over again I would say this: There was Before, and there’s Now. Now isn’t perfect…but Before wasn’t perfect either. What will we do with Now? Can we hold Now with two hands, understanding that it can be ugly and beautiful at the same time?

Here is what I know. I am not unmoored anymore. I’m unstuck. I also know this: that systems are fragile, that reality can be re-spun and re-invented. I know that there is opportunity in deconstruction if we look at it the right way. This is the time for learning, finding, funding, doing. This is the time to get to work. The work is enormous. It is pressing. It is non-negotiable. If we are lucky, we get to do the work.

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