August is my birthday month. Back in April, when I foolishly assumed the coronavirus would pass over us eventually like a thunderstorm, I planned a celebration in my head. I imagined summer sunshine renewing Chicago. No more hibernation, no more quarantine.
I anticipated singing and dancing to “Everybody Rejoice” from “The Wiz.”
Because our silent fear and dread is gone
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can’t you feel a brand new day?
The last line is the chorus, sung repeatedly. A brand new day symbolized, to me, walking outside without social distancing and the return of social gatherings. I dreamed of inviting friends to come on the second Sunday in August to the Stony Island Arts Bank in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, where DJ Duane Powell spins a soulful mix of house music at a day party called Sunday Service.
How perfect, to start my next rotation around the sun with deep house cuts while toasting the end to the brutal COVID-19. I welcomed the thought of such a joyful spiritual release.
But this reverie was short-lived, as it became clear in the spring that the coronavirus would be unremitting and ruinous. Alas, I woke up on my actual birthday to pictures of the Chicago River bridges raised, as though downtown were a castle in a moat, accompanied by the news that looting had taken place overnight.
2020 is the pandemic year that keeps on giving. The past several months have felt like several years, and my new strands of gray hair are evidence of that sentiment. Remembering a pre-pandemic social life is like waking up from a dream in a fog.
A week before the city put all of us on lockdown, I saw the Alvin Ailey dancers perform at the Auditorium Theater, “Her Honor Jane Byrne” at Lookingglass Theatre and “Middle Passage” at Lifeline Theatre.
But most important, a day before Chicago’s shelter-in-place order took effect, my family ate on the good china in the dining room. The teenagers’ volleyball club games had been canceled, and for the first time in more than a year, all of us ate Sunday dinner together, a ritual that had been hard to keep up with our many activities and commitments.
The coronavirus has imposed an unwelcome interlude in our lives, with no signs of an end on the horizon. Coping with this so-called ‘“new normal” takes an emotional toll. As I balanced working from home with a bootleg version of homeschooling, I heard whispers of: Slow down.
In the early days of the pandemic, when I wasn’t plotting a birthday celebration, I had grandiose plans of reading books on World War II, all of Toni Morrison’s novels and a good LBJ biography.
I can’t check any of that off my list. However, I can at least say I cleaned out my purse and uploaded pictures from my phone to the cloud.
Sometimes, especially during tough times like now, we need to slow down. So while at home in my caftans — my go-to middle-age uniform — I’m consuming a lot more pop culture. So far, Larry David made me laugh. “Insecure” made me smile. “The Last Dance” made me see peak levels of pro basketball pettiness. “I May Destroy You” made me marvel at the confusion around consent and sexual activity.
This not the time to pressure yourself into experimenting with a keto diet again or mastering some new skill.
But slowing down doesn’t mean the pandemic should become a complete sabbatical. With racial unrest intensifying here and across the country, our lives feel even more precarious. As Americans, we should be looking out for one another, yet I’ve been sorely disappointed in the lack of fortitude shown by too many people who treat coronavirus as an inconvenience instead of a global pandemic.
Our response falls along political fault lines, and it’s disheartening to see how people in other countries are caring for each other. They’re not debating something simple like wearing a mask, or defying orders against gathering in large crowds.
The strife adds yet another layer of stress about when — or if — COVID-19 will ever truly be over.
So for my birthday month this year, there will be no singing “Everybody Rejoice” en masse, in person. But we can all stand still and absorb the lyrics, challenging ourselves to make them a reality:
Everybody be glad
Because the sun is shining just for us
Everybody wake up
Into the morning into happiness
It’s like a different way of living now
And thank you world
We always knew that we’d be free somehow
And show the world that we’ve got liberty.
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