Monday, September 21, 2020

The Equinox of the Fall

I haven't been blogging much lately. It's probably not hard to guess why: I've been working harder than at any time aside from those crazy first semesters back in 1988 and 1989. From the sudden transition in less than a week back in the spring semester, intense training throughout the summer, and the onset of a new fall semester completely online pretty much explains the lack of leisure time for writing. But I was out yesterday evening on one of the myriad east-west roads that cross our valley, and I realized it was only one more day before the equinox. I stopped and photographed the setting of the sun.

We were in a similar situation six months ago, and I posted The First Day of an Uncertain Spring: This Too Shall Pass. I wrote at the time "Spring was always seen as a time of renewal when the cold winter is ending and the green shoots of new life are coming from the ground. Of course we know that it is a different situation as the world faces an invisible foe that brings sickness and death, and it's been many decades that we've needed to make sacrifices to fight it."

What a different and unpredictable time this turned out to be. Last March around 35,000 Americans had contracted the disease, and around 500 people had died. The death toll today is more than 200,000 Americans, and nearly a million around the world. 31 million have caught the disease, and around 23 million have recovered, but for many there will be health challenges for the the rest of their lives. The saddest part of this tragedy is that we could have prevented many tens of thousands of these deaths had there been a quick and orderly national response to the pandemic. This did not happen, and instead there were good responses in some states, and criminally negligent responses in others. As one state would seem to gain control, others lost control. We reached a peak and started to decline, but then it started to rise again. It's plateaued in the last few weeks, but there is no continued decline.

Who knew that an entire subset of the population would actively fight the restrictions needed to defeat the virus and prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans? I understand the impatience and frustration of wearing a mask in public places and maintaining distance and not gathering in crowds. But to subvert these easy guidelines and to even deny that the disease exists? I cannot even begin to comprehend this mindset, the one that would sacrifice not only strangers, but one's own family members and friends.

In this national tragedy, I've lost two treasured people, my grandmother and my sister-in-law (not to covid, not that it matters). I had to watch one funeral over a phone, and the memorial service on zoom. It is hard beyond words to have to say good-bye in this way. I loved them both so much. This is the real tragedy. We can't come together and hold each other in the way that humans need to in times of great loss. We need to fight this thing with a united front and put it away for good. We need to do it together.
The sun set in a pall of smoke from the hundreds of fires blazing in California right now. We've lost so much, not just from a pandemic, but from changes in our climate that were predicted three decades ago, and are manifesting themselves on an accelerated time scale. Six months ago I wrote "this too shall pass", but some things will not pass without being inalterably changed. The changes are permanent and we have to prepare.

The sense of loss in my family this week has been sharp and painful, but it was compounded by the loss of some of my treasured places to the fires that have destroyed so much already.

So I mark the passage of another equinox. This moment of the year has had a magic quality for humans for thousands of years, for better or worse. Spring has been the time of birth and hope, and the fall is the time of death and consuming darkness. I can only repeat my words from six months ago: 

"Whatever takes place in the coming weeks and months, please be kind to one another. Look out for your neighbor, and remember that whatever you have, someone else has far less. Be generous as you are able, and remember that with all things, this too shall pass."