The lie existed, abstract, before it even entered my house in the form a book from a well-intentioned friend. “Wait a few months before you read it,” she suggested, “but I think it will help.” She was trim and blonde and stylish, my friend, her hair freshly cut and highlighted.
The book, the lie, stared back from a coffee table and then from my bedside shelf. The title was catchy but apparently not memorable; How to Get Your Groove Back, or something like that. Inside its pink and black cover were dozens of post-pregnancy tricks and tools. Follow along, the lie enticed, and your world will return to normal, lickety-split.
Even when the lie began to unravel, its full extent remained hidden. A complete return to normal might be fantasy, but play those cards right, you cheeky girl, and life could be a splendid set of tidy side-by-side compartments, with you, the main character, hopping back and forth between them, changing costumes to fill different roles in a play.
One box for work.
One box for mother.
Other boxes for all the other things: marriage, friendships, self.
Eventually all of the duties inside the “mother” box would ship from the conveyor belt, contents launching free into the world.
A lie, all of it.
A mother is never not a mother, whatever may become of her offspring. There is no going back.
That truth, once evident, felt like a betrayal. It was anger, then grief, and finally freedom. Equilibrium, at last: lovely and imperfect and complete.
Perhaps that’s why this current time feels, in some way, strangely familiar.
The novel coronavirus won’t be contained by Easter, killed off by summer. The notion that it could be “killed off” at all is itself a lie. This is no singular, monolithic foe. It’s not an asteroid to be obliterated before impact, no alien army to be turned back on Independence Day.
If we, working collectively and cooperatively, succeed in flattening the curve of infection, we still contend with a worldwide pandemic that won’t subside until there is sufficient human immunity, reached through a combination of exposure and, eventually, vaccination.
In the next 12-18 months most of us will be exposed and infected. Social distancing simply buys time. It’s like doling out Halloween candy two pieces a day until Christmas instead of eating the entire bucket in one sitting.
Only, of course, it isn’t like that at all.
The world is never returning to what was. That is both the bad and the good news.
We will change, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Our cultures and governments will change.
And no one, not a single living person, knows how things will ultimately turn out.
Perhaps the world is giving birth to its new self, and all of us who lived in what is now the old world must reconcile to this truth of what is new. That reconciliation will be messy and uncomfortable, marked by anger, betrayal, grief, and acceptance.
Whether the reconciled world will be better or worse, when it finally reaches equilibrium, is simply a mystery.
And so, gentle reader, let us consider the words of incurable optimist Kate Bowler:
Don’t skip to the end.
Here we are, day by day. Onward.
P.S. Need a coloring sheet to soothe your anxious self and keep these words present? I thought you might. Here it is: Don’t Skip to the End coloring sheet