NOT NOW: A LETTER TO MY GRANDCHILDREN
March 28, 2020
Dear Isaac, Rex, Orion and Denali,
I am writing this from the office inside my house. I would rather take you to gymnastics and sing lullabies to put you to sleep. I would rather eat Cheesy Fries with you at Classic Burger. I would much rather watch you race your bicycles or play catch with you.
I can’t. Not now. For you and for the planet, I’m staying home during this coronavirus pandemic.
There have been pandemics before when people were urged to stay home and wear masks outside, when schools, churches, theaters and libraries were closed. My mother and father, your great-grandmother and grandfather, were born in the aftermath of World War I, during the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed fifty million people around the world. The night my mother was born, her doctor died from the Spanish Flu before he even signed her birth certificate.
Other epidemics have killed thousands, even millions of people around the world. Polio, measles, mumps. Today we have vaccines for those diseases. Not now. We don’t have a vaccine for this.
My mother’s sister died at the age of six during the diphtheria epidemic of the 1920s. My grandparents were able to gather with friends and family to mourn together and to bury their precious daughter, the aunt I never met. Not now. When a loved one dies from this virus, there is no gathering to honor the lost life. Now, we stay at home.
Yes, my precious ones. This world and this country have been through difficult times before and made it through. We will make it through this.
My parents, your great grandparents, lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. My grandfather abandoned his family and my grandmother had to go to work, often leaving her four children in the care of neighbors or her oldest son. My father peddled milk in the morning before school to help the family. He told of having ketchup and water heated up as tomato soup for dinner because that’s all they had in the house, of having to share one Christmas present with his three siblings.
Those times were rough but my dad still played basketball with his friends, ran through the streets of town playing Kick-the-Can, and gathered with people at the movie theater to watch the newest Rin Tin Tin movie. Not now. Now we can’t gather with friends or go to the movies. We stay at home.
My parents lived through World War II when everyone in this country made sacrifices. Food and gasoline were rationed and train travel was restricted. They married in 1943 near the end of the war. Despite gas rationing, people showed up. Despite food shortages, they had a reception. My mom and dad saved up their gas coupons so they could travel to the Adirondacks for a honeymoon. Not now. No gathering of friends to celebrate a marriage. No reception with cake and punch. No driving to the Adirondacks for a honeymoon. Now we stay at home and Zoom our wedding to our friends.
There have been times in my life when the whole country came together to cry. When I was a freshman in high school, President Kennedy was assassinated. On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell in New York City when two airplanes flew into them. That same day, an airplane crashed into the Pentagon and one went down in a field in Pennsylvania. After those tragedies happened, we didn’t lock ourselves in the house. We gathered as a country to grieve. In living rooms, churches, and on the streets, we mourned together. Not now. Now we cry from our recliners or from the front porch. We hug friends from six feet apart.
In my life I have fought for justice. I have marched with thousands protesting the Vietnam War, racism, and nuclear war. I have marched for civil rights, human rights, and peace. Not now. Now I stay at home and watch on TV as the world copes with a tragedy that is ripping families apart.
Your aunt and uncle, my son and daughter-in-law, are in Seattle, quarantined in their house waiting for test results. Their energy levels stay low. Their fevers go up and down. They cough and get better. They get worse again and wait for it to be over. I want to be there, to fly to Seattle, feed them chicken soup, and nurse them back to health. But I can’t. Not now. I can only text every day and ask how they are doing. We talk on the phone when they have the energy.
My brother, your great-uncle, is in an isolation ward in a California hospital also waiting for test results. He tells me not to worry. Not now, dear brother. It’s not your time. Not now.
How I want to be with the four of you. Hugs on Facetime aren’t half as good as feeling your little arms around me. Playing a game together on Zoom is not the same as being together and laughing.
This virus may be taking away my ability to run around the block with you, watch you at gymnastics do your first forward roll, play video games sitting next to you, see your band concerts, fly on an airplane to visit you, or go to the Desert Museum with you. This virus may be taking that away from me.
But it will never take away my love for you. Not now. Not ever.
I love you more than tongue-can-tell.