By Sharon Canfield Dorsey, Chesapeake Bay Branch
I pull into the restaurant parking and just sit. My heartbeat quickens. I’ve had my vaccine. So has my friend. A simple lunch, but I can’t deny the apprehension.
At my first venture out after the COVID lockdown eased, in the clean, socially distanced restaurant, we laughed about our fear. We’d adjusted to mask and gloves in the grocery store, post office, and pharmacy. Without the mask, we felt vulnerable, naked. Since then, a second shot, a booster, and more lunches out. I no longer have a near-panic attack in the parking lot. We’re all inching our way back into the world.
After months of isolation, many of my friends and family are changed. Some questioned their job choices, making difficult decisions, changing professions. My son lost his job and, after a year out of work, reinvented himself. His new career brings him joy instead of stress-related indigestion. My daughter works from home and hopes never to return to commuting and her crowded office. Friends share similar stories.
Much has improved. Grocery stores are better stocked, in spite of delivery delays and shortages. Still, some things we will never again take for granted. Packed grocery shelves, haircuts, dentist and doctor appointments, schoolrooms filled with kids, teachers holding chalk, ready to teach, movie theaters: remember those? We’ve learned to appreciate time with family — dinners, game nights, holidays — simple things we never dreamed we could lose.
I hope we’ll emerge from this insulated and insular time with a clearer awareness of our own blindness to prejudice, racism, and the fragility of the democracy we believed was forever. We watched a man murdered by police meant to keep us safe. We experienced the horror of an attack on the seat of our government, not by foreign terrorists, but by fellow citizens. We’re hearing about passage of laws that curtail voting for the young, the elderly, and blacks.
When Juneteenth was declared a national holiday in 2020, a century and a half after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, 95-year-old Opal Lee sat in the audience. Eighty-three years earlier, at 12, she and her family barely escaped with their lives while their Galveston home was vandalized and burned to the ground by white neighbors. No news report and no arrests.
Opal grew up to become a teacher. For over forty years, she campaigned for this holiday. Each year on June 19, she walked two and a half miles to commemorate the two and a half years it took news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach slaves in Texas. During COVID, at 94, she and supporters walked from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D. C., to deliver 1.5 million signatures, requesting again that Juneteenth be recognized as a national holiday.
So, what happens now? Will enough people get vaccinated to put this deadly virus in our rear-view mirror? Will our citizens join together and work toward common causes that benefit all of us? Will we remember the hard lessons from the dark months of fear, death? Can we maintain gratitude for being healthy, being alive?
What happens next depends on recognizing that we are different and life will be different. I hope it will be better, but we need to do more than hope.
Sharon Canfield Dorsey is an award-winning author of fiction, nonfiction, juvenile fiction, and poetry. In addition to four children’s books, three books of poetry, a memoir, and a pictorial travel journal, her most recent project is a line of art/affirmation cards. For details, visit www.sharoncanfielddorsey.com.