The Spring of Hope

By Shyama Parui

Bags were packed, the car trunk was stuffed with beach chairs and tents and after grabbing our favorite snacks, we set out on our Spring road trip. We sang, we argued, we paused our debate on the best “Avenger" to admire the rows of pecan trees and vast farmlands of rural Georgia, and those in the back seat even dozed off from time to time. Much to our surprise, we even spotted “Trump-Pence 2020" signs on billboards. The leisurely pace and vibe continued until the rumbling in our tummies reminded us that we had to stop for fuel for us and the four-wheel vehicle we were steering. That stop at the fast-food restaurant changed our mood from “relaxed" to “hyper alert". We geared up with masks, toilet seat covers, sanitizing sprays and approached the restroom with trepidation. I was horrified when I realized that I had forgotten to carry disposable gloves. We practically ran out of the place clinging to the sandwiches and drinks, as soon as “maskless" humans entered.

If 2020 was known for despair, then 2021 is slowly showing sign of optimism. For that reason, we continued our journey. Checking in to a hotel still seemed risky, so we rented a house with a few of our close friends who were a part of our pandemic bubble. Decisions about our destination and activities were dictated by the fact that the pandemic is still lingering. Included in the list of local attractions of Florida's Forgotten Coast, was the address of the nearest CVS Pharmacy providing COVID testing. When some of us caught a cold, we feared the worst and even went through the dreaded nose swab process. I could hear the entire group let out a collective sigh of relief when the results were negative.

Just as we resume our vacation activities, we are dropping layers of protection one at a time. Last year, mundane tasks like shopping without gloves, ordering take out, and mustering up the courage to dine in the restaurant seemed as bold as painting graffiti on Church Street in the middle of the night. Today, I am sending the children to school five days a week. And even though the drop off and pick up routine has hijacked my free time; the change has been welcome.

A large part of our confidence has obviously been the availability of the vaccine. Even with a few cases of adverse effects, the overall sentiment has been positive. New variants of Coronavirus keep emerging and the world continues its fight for survival. Businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries, for example, are limping back to operation in response to people's willingness to travel and the economy appears to be crawling in the right direction.

It would be unrealistic to flip the switch and rewind to our former way of life. Even though our family has avoided contracting the virus so far, it has insidiously affected our perspective on all important matters. It also stole the carefree spirit of our children and I can't recall the last time I felt unadulterated joy. After spending over a year under the cloud of a highly contagious disease, fleeting moments of joy were muddied by fear and even guilt. Anger was often followed by intense waves of contradictory feelings. Was I being insensitive to the pain suffered by millions of people? Did I have the right to grieve about the loss of opportunities for my children? Was I being a good parent by stopping my kids from activities that they thrived in? Did I truly know what was in the best interest of our health? Was I justified in simply being dissatisfied or wanting more out of any given day?

Despite the torment, I had to remind myself that it was okay. I gave myself permission to simply experience the emotions by casting the judgment away. Gratitude and love saved me from drowning emotionally. For too many, things will never return to “normal".

Yet, what is life if there is no hope? And what is strength without resilience?

Major religions from around the world have emphasized the importance of growing from hardship and drawing strength from hope. And we would probably benefit from ancient wisdom because in all honesty, pessimism is a worse option and hope gives us reason to stay optimistic. Or should I say, cautiously optimistic? The world around us is bleeding and while we cannot undo the wound, our goal should be to heal it and live with the scar. In this season of renewal, we need to nurse the present and build a healthier future.

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com