Recently, through the slow machinations of delayed dentist appointments and referrals with wait times, I made it into a physical therapist to talk about the migraines I’ve been battling this pandemic. He obligingly sympathized with how tense the right side of my body has gotten (why????) and got a feel for what’s gone wrong with my jaw and started to help me unclench some of my months’ worth of tensing. But then — then he gave me exercises, warned me it would probably get worse before it got better, and sent me back out to the hard work.
The whole thing reminded me very much of the birth of my firstborn, in which, after an unexpectedly miserable pregnancy, I worked calmly and obediently through early labor only to be clobbered with a very hard time pushing. Finally, after four hours of pushing, I got the thing done, basked in the exultation and hormones and warm blanket that immediately follow childbirth and then — well, then the midwife handed me my baby and left me to take care of him after doing something very, very hard.
Before the actual experience of labor, I had thought this “rooming in” business was a very good idea. Bonding! Breastfeeding on demand! But when it finally happened, after I had done a very hard thing for a very long time and was very tired, I felt alarmed and betrayed to be immediately handed something else hard to do in the form of this new, soupy son I’d never met before.
Both of these experiences strike me as the way things will probably go for us as a culture when the pandemic has mostly died out. There will be no spontaneous bonfires and dancing in the streets, dreams I’d abandoned in late spring, but now I realize there also won’t immediately be an alleviation of all we’ve suffered. All of us will be licking our wounds, so who will there be unscathed to hand out medals for patience endurance and chocolate to keep our spirits up? Even those of us, like me, who have suffered only in the most indirect ways, will not feel a sudden melting away of the tension we’ve built up over these long months.
Instead, it will be the time for all of us to get down to the real work, the hard work, beyond the simple stepping aside that is the best that many of us have had to offer. We’ll be stretching new muscles we haven’t used in awhile, learning new skills and to care in new ways. It’s mostly not going to be fun, but it’s the only way through to the new world, the world after, the world where we’ll be strong enough not hurt in the same ways again — although of course we’ll find new ones.
In the meantime, I’ll be trying to treat my own battered body gently, repairing the damage life and I have wrought on this little, aging body of mine. I’ll be reading the good books and having the great conversations that will equip me. And someday, soon, I hope, I’ll step dazedly out into the new work prepared for me.