It has been almost a year since life as we knew it, both here in the U.S. and across the globe, changed in dramatic proportions with the news that a mysterious health pandemic was within our midst: COVID-19.
As many recall, America’s leaders, most notably then President Donald Trump, assured us that our shining nation on the hill was immune to this virus.
We were told that this 21st-century version of Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious, contagious disease, as told to readers of his masterful short story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” was something that could never extend its talons from China to the U.S.
We were assured that we had nothing to fear and that things would return to normal in record time.
“Trust me” we were told.
Of course, history has shown that we were fed a quiver of lies, misstatements and conclusions based not on scientific evidence but on wishful thinking.
For me, as a father of two adult children and a grandfather of two Black boys, 6 and 18, I remember feeling powerless in ways that I had never felt before. While I could speak with my children and grandchildren on Facebook Live or Zoom teleconference calls, my plans to visit them in their respective cities of New York, Detroit and Atlanta were suddenly both impossible and improbable.
Still, given the reports from the White House in those early days, I, like many others, held fast to the rhetoric that this too would pass, as my mother used to say — and that it would pass swiftly.
As the days became weeks and weeks became months, I fought to avoid becoming like a growing number of Americans who began to allow depression, anxiety and fear to overwhelm them. As best I could, I put on a brave front for my children — but especially for my two grandsons.
But when left alone, I cried for them — for the experiences that would elude them and my opportunity to be with them as they took those traditional steps toward adulthood.
As my youngest grandson, Jackson, began first grade, I could only witness this significant step in his development by watching videos that my daughter had taken. Even then, he would not have the chance to forge a memory that I will never forget when I first started elementary school at Louis Pasteur on the Westside of Detroit more than 50 years ago.
His first day would be a virtual event without the heart-warming trappings of playing with new classmates, meeting his first-grade teacher and getting a warm hug, how to stand in line before bathroom breaks or as lunchtime approached, writing his first poem for Daddy or drawing Valentines with his friends for their Moms and Grandmothers.
Further, I was not so naïve as to believe that after looking forward to finally starting his educational journey, that he wasn’t more than a little disappointed. I know I would have been devastated.
I then remembered my four years at a college preparatory, all-boys Catholic school in Detroit where I matriculated and received my high school diploma. Every day at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy was a day of discovery and wonder. I remember arriving early every morning for band practice and staying late each night for a plethora of extra-curricular activities.
Even without the joys or distractions, depending on how you looked at it, of our school being bereft of girls, we were kept so busy and required to work so hard that I cannot remember ever missing them — at least not much. (Still, I made up for lost time once I moved on to college).
Closing my eyes, I can see the Saturday night dances when our campus became coed for the evening and we danced away the hours to the sounds of Chicago, Stevie Wonder and Parliament/Funkadelic.
I remember the hayrides at apple orchards that took me and my classmates miles away from the city. I smile as I think about our basketball team taking the Catholic League title as the varsity team warmed up to “We Are the Champions.”
I recall how proud my parents, my sister and many other family members were as I crossed the stage with my classmates to accept my diploma with honors.
I want all of this and more for my oldest grandson, Jordon. But I don’t see how he’ll ever have the chance to celebrate in the numerous ways in which I was so fortunate.
Somehow, he seems to be keeping a stiff upper lip — my young warrior. But I cannot help but wonder what thoughts are really pervading his young mind as he attends classes virtually or attempts to be slightly mannish while flirting with a young lassie on social media.
After all, you can’t get your first kiss by placing your lips on a cold screen, can you?
When my parents were alive and I was just a teenager anxious to become an adult, my mother would often tell me that some experiences were better gained through vicarious means. In short, she wanted me to understand that we can get a sense of the joy or pain of the world by “witnessing” such events through the eyes of others instead of actually experiencing them and that sometimes it was for the best.
In many cases — most in fact, she was far from wrong.
But for my little man and my young man-child, first grade and senior year in high school just aren’t meant to be experienced in any other way but live and in living color.
Somehow, with God’s grace and given my creative mind, I will discover ways to help them get a sense of what they have been unable to experience — what they have tragically been denied by no fault of their own.
Somehow! Some day! Some way!