A year ago, when our Tacoma YMCA shut down, we started daily walks in the neighborhood. During these walks, my husband and I talked politics.
With the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, we wondered if the president would be mature and handle the pandemic like a true public servant. Instead, while the azaleas and the rhododendrons bloomed, we heard about the curative value of hydroxychloroquine and were assured the virus would simply go away. The brother of a friend died of COVID-19 as his wife looked through a window, unable to hold his hand and say goodbye.
As spring melted into summer, the blackberry hedge along our path grew thick. George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. The country burst into protest. While we did our daily circuit, our old neighborhood in Minneapolis burned. The diner where years ago we’d gone for breakfast became a shell. The library where I’d stood in line to vote for Jimmy Carter, ruined. The building where I’d bought our daughter her first pair of shoes, gone.
We waited for some humanity to come out of the president. Instead, we watched as unidentified soldiers used tear gas to clear the streets in Washington, D.C., so the president could stand in front of a church holding a Bible.
With the summer, the blackberry hedge began to bear fat, juicy berries. The president held his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the virus swept through the city. His rallies became super-spreader events. More people died with no end in sight.
In August I woke up sick one morning. Not typical COVID symptoms. Our walks stopped. I sat on hold with my clinic for almost an hour to talk with someone about getting the COVID test. When they finally ordered it, we drove 60 miles round trip for the simple test. It was negative.
We resumed our walking. The blackberries, now thick and tasty, were a daily treat. We watched the Democratic National Convention, a virtual production complete with the stars wearing masks. Perhaps help and compassion were on their way. We then watched one segment of the Republican Convention. It was filled with hate talk. We turned it off.
The blackberries withered in the fall. Neighbors decorated for Halloween. The president became sick with the virus. After hospitalization, he stood in the White House and ripped off his mask as if he had mastered COVID. Later, much later, we found out how sick he had been. The death toll rose.
One sunny November day, we found a neighbor on a ladder stringing Christmas lights. We stopped to talk, and he said, “It feels good to be doing something normal right now.” The neighborhood took on a festive look. Across from us a blow-up Santa, down the street snowmen and little pink plastic pigs pulling a sled. Meanwhile, the president raged about a stolen election, and the virus continued to kill.
For the holiday season, we hoped the president would slink away to Mar-a-Lago and never darken the White House again. Instead, he was there, urging the mob on Jan. 6. Once again, impeachment and no conviction.
Now a year after the shutdown, we have a new president. The old president has gone to his palace in Florida. Vaccinations are here, and we expect our COVID walks will soon become post-COVID walks. Crises continue — gun violence, desperation at the border, voter suppression — but our discussions, once brimming with despair, are filled with hope as President Joe Biden settles in. Spring is here, and soon the azaleas and the rhododendrons will again be in full bloom.