This afternoon, as I walked through a woodland of spindly, dormant red oaks, black birches that winter had stripped of their emerald leaves, and fallen Christmas-tree-like hemlocks rotting on the forest floor from the assault of the woolly adelgid, I thought about loss.
I was thinking about it anyway, because a boy I knew from high school died Friday of Covid. It’s hard to reconcile the smiling face of that sweet young boy with the man who struggled, and finally failed, to breathe on a ventilator in a Long Island hospital. The frustration of a Covid death, at this point in time when so many of us are getting vaccinated or already have been, feels like the soldier who dies in battle moments before the war is declared over. Just a little more time, we say. Just a little more time.
I hiked onward, stumbling on stones through mud-sludged paths. Deep shade, the kind one hopes for only on the hottest of summer days, shadowed my walk.
Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to a stream that danced through the woods, its rippling waters glimmering like glass. Minutes later, through a typically dense thicket thinned by winter’s pruning, I spotted a tremulous light; the sun’s rays glanced off a pond and ricocheted toward me. The light dragged me from the darkness of my thoughts back to the breath of Mother Nature; she put her hands on my shoulders and shook me awake. Be in this moment, she said. Because there’s nothing you can do right now about what has passed. And there’s nothing you can do about what will come to pass.
Covid is still here, and will continue to live with us for the time being. I know this. But with well-meaning, intelligent, and compassionate people in the White House who are acknowledging the pandemic for the killer it is, with mass vaccinations that bring us a measure of hope, and with the arrival of the oasis of springtime, relief fills the air. A palpable anticipation mingles with the inevitable anxiety that accompanies a re-entry into the world.
Surely, there is much to fear. But there is also much to embrace. The world has changed, and like the butterfly that emerges from the caterpillar soup of the chrysalis, so have we.
J.R.R. Tolkien, in his classic “The Fellowship of the Ring,” wrote a thought that was and will continue to be prescient: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
Coming out of the forest, I turn back to bid goodbye to those we have lost. The forest is still winter-barren, but I see what lies ahead: the glory of spring and its promise of renewal, of recovery, of rebirth.
May it be so for you.