Last week was peak chaos in a season stained by roiling upheaval. I toggled between trying to work and refreshing my Twitter feed for election results, gossip, news, rumors, projections. I was like a hamster foraging for food in a cage of stress, fueled by the desire for permanence and reassurance. Lately, life has provided neither.
On Saturday, it seemed, we had answers. The presidential race had been called—um, right? There was closure, followed by a collective exhale of knowing. Then Monday brought the hugely promising news of Pfizer’s vaccine progress. Could we be turning a corner? Could things settle down? Can I finally relax a little bit? Will masks someday be as outdated as leg-warmers and rotary phones?
I’m not sure—taking things for granted is a luxury of the past. But a flash of optimism against this rotting cloak of darkness made me examine how much psychological baggage we’ve been carrying around as parents for months now. How desperate we are for good news of any kind. How disconnected we’ve become from the normal pleasures of life, and how starved we are for happiness. How much we long for weightlessness and togetherness.
My kids operate from a different center of gravity. They don’t leave the house without masks. They don’t complain about it; they just do it. They don’t go inside their friends’ houses. They grab for Purell as instinctively as they reach for Halloween candy. They take in various bits of news with curiosity and questions but also a childlike credulousness because, well, they’re kids. Skepticism and cynicism are the mental warts of age.
We parents who have a strong sense of then versus now are perpetually ping-ponging between projecting hope and stability while bracing for impact—constantly. The past few days have made me realize how thoroughly exhausting it’s been. I felt my jaw unclench. I felt my shoulders relax. When I saw the news of a potential vaccine, I experienced a sensation I hadn’t felt in ages: hope. It’s an emotion that’s become as precious as Clorox wipes these days.
There is an old Jewish joke: “What’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?” The pessimist says, “It can’t possibly get any worse than this.” The optimist says, “Of course it can!”
In that scenario, I’m a pessimist. This winter is going to be hard, but I think we’ll get relief. I’m confident that we won’t live this way endlessly. We will not lurch from worry to worry forever, nor will we exist in a bleak purgatory fogged with the specter of isolation, tumult and illness. But right now, we’re heading into that darkest season—and we’re more desperate than ever for optimism, for good news, for straws of hope.
I thought at first that my mandate, my struggle, was to convey that sense of hope to my kids. The thing is, though, they’re OK—because, sadly or not, they know nothing else. The winter to them will feel like spring, and next spring will feel better, maybe, but not like air.
But I’m old enough to remember what happiness felt like, and now I’m realizing that I need to convince myself that I can feel it again. Do you?