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Greetings From the Brooklyn of Florida
Trips that didn't get canceled and other miracles
I spent the afternoon at a Holiday Inn pool in St. Petersburg, Florida. My friends tell me this area is the Brooklyn of Florida which means there are lots of “In this house, we believe…” lawn signs. Every city has its own Brooklyn these days, even Paris.
The air in this Brooklyn is warm and velvety and I can hear my daughter and my two godchildren laughing from my chair. They’re having a conversation that started when they were toddlers and they’ve picked it right back up like they always do when we cross oceans to see each other.
This trip feels like a stolen interlude between this year and the next probably-also-insane 12 months. (2022 will have to prove itself sane, I take nothing for granted anymore.) When I left New York yesterday, the Rockettes had just canceled their Christmas Spectacular, and London had declared a state of emergency as their hospitals began to overflow. Again. And today, my newsfeed had this headline: “Will It Be Like This Forever?”
We planned this trip when everyone was high on post-vaccine, pre-Omnicron optimism. My friend and mother of those godkids navigated a gauntlet of international COVID rules with her partner to get here from Australia. In the reality show competition that is our current normal, their challenge this week is to avoid getting the virus while they're here so they're allowed on the flight back to Sydney.
So we’re all being careful, and we’re acutely aware that we may not be able to reassemble people from different continents for a while. This is why I’m on this pool chair with three geckos and a John Prine playlist feeling dramatic and sentimental.
But in truth, the pandemic just made what was already true more obvious; certainty was always an illusion. Tornadoes swoop in, people get sick, and even when our rituals withstand all that, we evolve, we’re not always the same person year after year. And the arrival of new loves or new children reconfigures all the relationship molecules.
Our plane from New York must have had eight or nine babies, many of them headed to meet grandparents or aunties for the first time. They were sweet, restless creatures. They reached for the hands of strangers and grinned at us over parental shoulders. Every once in a while they’d arch their backs and protest the tedium with howls of indignation.
It reminded me how scarily quiet and empty the planes were last year at this time. All this life and noise and anticipation this month was evidence that we aren’t actually stuck in some reboot of Groundhog Day, Pandemic Edition. Time is passing on both sides of our Zoom screens. And these babies have already reshaped their parents’ lives, like tiny suns with tremendous gravitational pull.
The pandemic didn’t stop time, but when I look at my children and godchildren in that pool I can still see them at every age they’ve ever been—as newborns or at 7 or 14, as well as the grown-up car-driving people they are now. And I know that these gentle days of life them at this age, at this point in their lives are as ephemeral as their first steps.
I just wish I could see ahead too, picture our kids in five years when they will have morphed again. They'll bear the psychic bruises and loss of these last years, I’m sure. But even if they've internalized our stress, they may also absorb some of the gratitude we have for each scrap of connection and normalcy. The Depression-era generation never forgot what scarcity felt like. They saved old wrapping paper and treated oranges like they were luxuries. Maybe our 21st-century children will hold onto each other with the same stubborn reverence.
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A few images from the week that was.
This newsletter normally goes out Sunday afternoons, but as you can see, a few gremlins have intervened. Back to our usual schedule next week.
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