The global pandemic wasn’t much for giving. The thing just seemed to take, and take, and take. 

It seemed unreal, unbelievable: How could such an antique-sounding abstraction start subtracting from our lives? It struck fast, in the beginning, unthinkably excising our trips to restaurants, our after-work drinks with friends, our excursions to the theater, our God-given right to pay money to go run on a treadmill indoors somewhere, our very haircuts. It took our workplaces, and our work friends, but only for a little while … right? It pushed back our special travel plans, took away our ability to vacate for vacation.

It also took away hugs from our moms. It took grandparents’ precious time with grandchildren. It took school and it took church. It took not just some people’s workplaces, but their work. It took not just some people’s livelihoods, but their lives.

The pandemic took away not just time, but the meaning of time. Sometimes it seemed like it’d been going on forever; sometimes it seemed like time wasn’t passing at all. Some pandemic days stayed inert, laid out before us like a patient on a table whom we hoped very much not to become. We were supposed to have more time, the luckier among us, yet it seldom felt that way at all — small tasks seemed insurmountable, our brains fogged. What day was it again? “What a time to be alive!” we exclaimed, often unsure of what we meant.

Fewer and fewer planes flew over. Cars sat idle. A quieting occurred.

Remember when the wild animals started reappearing? Remember when long-hazed skies cleared? We went to the parks, in record numbers — our neglected friend, nature, remembered again. We ran down the center of city streets, shaggy. We went outside at the appointed hour and screamed, together but apart. We read books. Our pets, old or new, climbed in our laps at just the right times with their mute gratitude, and they got pet practically bald for it.

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When did the masking happen again? You couldn’t smile at a stranger, now when you most wanted to. We had actual nightmares that were just someone coughing too close, or just being somewhere, sometime, when everyone seemed to think everything was normal again. The stress of it all quietly borrowed from all of us, and it never paid back. It kept stealing, outright, too — more plans mislaid, more dreams delayed, more people swallowed whole.

We got little bits of our lives back, as the time leaked by, but nothing felt right. Who’d go to the movies at a time like this? Just to move onwards and sideways, rather than up or down — that was all right. Right? It had to be.

It felt like nothing was happening, Groundhog Day, over and over. 

But food became more fundamental, beyond a pandemic panic of store shelves emptied, beyond a rash of people baking bread. Those who’d been feeding the well off — chefs who’d been generous all along, behind the scenes — started, straight away, feeding those in need, no questions asked. Grocery store workers were there for us all along, but had we been there for them? Restaurants reopened, but why should servers work at such higher risk? Who cared for our sick, who kept us safe, who taught our children, and at what personal cost? How about those who made music, made art? What made some kinds of work worth so much more than others? 

What happened when more and more people needed child care, needed health care, needed food, needed help? When more and more jobs were lost, when family businesses couldn’t stay afloat? Cracks in the system began to show in a new way. Poorer people, older people, women, those with less access, Black and brown communities — as usual — were impacted more. Questions that’d been there all along pressed to the front, began demanding answers.

A space opened up for Black Lives Matter. People rallied, rioted, made demands in the streets.

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An election happened, and beliefs of all kinds came to light. In record numbers, people took action.

The pandemic worsened, again. Would we ever get to another real Groundhog Day? Some had given everything; some, it seemed, hadn’t given enough. The days still getting darker, isolation again imposed, pieces of our lives and our families got taken away yet again. 

But wasn’t there still thanks to give? For enough to eat, for recipes to share? For cheers from friends and family from afar? For the roofs over our heads, for our warm beds? For the love we still had, even for the love we’d lost? For hopes for the future, for embetterment and brighterness on the other side of this thing? For us just to meet again? So much remained when so much was stripped away.

We’ll stay home, and we’ll feel an intense gratitude to have a home in which to stay. We’ll call our moms. We’ll hug anyone we can extra tight. We’ll make the world’s smallest turkey — or if the store does not provide, to hell with it, one that’s far too big. We’ll have time to make something out of the leftovers.