Looking Forward

Several years ago, when my mom’s health problems took a big turn, she became depressed. A social worker came by the house – I was hoping he’d get her into therapy but it never came up – and he asked what she looked forward to.

It was the winter then and she suffers from seasonal affect disorder – which I do, too, evidenced this spring by full-on depression whenever a rainy day happened, although it’s better now; but she really has it and has had it for years. So anyway she said, Springtime, when it’s sunny and warm again. And, visiting her brother.

Well, spring came and her health didn’t really improve and she spent very little time outside. But she was determined to visit her brother but that didn’t work out the way she planned anyway. She was so depressed she spent most of her visit in bed and he has his own life with its own rhythms and she didn’t fit into those rhythms and didn’t want to. And, when she returned home, she was exhausted mentally and physically. Now that she had done that thing that she had looked forward to, and she didn’t have anything else to look forward to, her depression returned.

And I think about that now.

It suddenly occurred to me yesterday that part of the reason this whole Covid thing is so disruptive is because we have lost things to look forward to. I don’t look forward to going on vacation – because we’re not traveling. I don’t look forward to holidays with family – because we’re not traveling. I don’t look forward to going to Toastmasters, because that’s not happening. I don’t look forward to the weekend because that’s just sitting around watching TV. It is the TDF now, which I wasn’t looking forward to because they moved the dates and I didn’t know it was happening until suddenly it was. I look forward to the next episode of Lovecraft Country each week, though my husband now likes to binge-watch shows because that’s more efficient.

I’m taking several online classes, which I sometimes look forward to, but there’s no human interaction, which online learning really needs to solve for.

I feel like I only come alive at work and that’s because it gives me structure. And because there are things to look forward to: several really engaging meetings about strategy and building things. A weekly shot of training.

I miss anticipation.

My nieces and nephews are returning to school this week. Well, most of them. One niece is starting high school – can you imagine starting high school without the hallways full of other students, no opportunities to meet other kids, to hear new ideas. Another niece will be a sophomore. When do classes start? I asked her yesterday. I don’t know, she said dismally. Her mom said, next week. She sighed and moped out of the room. Her brother tried to sign up for PE (PE? how do you do PE remotely? I asked. My sister said, we were wondering that ourselves.) but the class was full and he ended up in Coding instead. Which he may love. Or which school may ruin for him. But since when is PE an elective? I mean, many of us treated it that way when we were in High School but still. I think about my friend, John, who absolutely would not have let his kids elect out of PE – he required his kids to have at least one artistic activity and one team sport until they graduated from high school. Beyond that, he said, it was up to them.

The only huge event looming on the horizon is the election, which everyone is dreading and no one is looking forward to.

I think back to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Long Winter (yes, here I go again) where the family is trapped in their house for nine months by a series of blizzards. They had almost no contact with other people because they never knew when a blizzard would spring up again. At one point, Laura and Carrie are getting bundled up to cross the street and see friends when the daylight went out, the house shook, and they unbundled themselves: another blizzard had hit. At some point they receive a bundle of newspapers with a serial story (where the next chapter will be in the next week’s newspaper) and Ma says, let’s not read them all at once, let’s space them out so we have something to look forward to. It’s a little thing, but it gives them something.

And then, as the food runs low, they all start to look forward to when the train will arrive. But it doesn’t arrive – the tracks are snowed under, and it won’t arrive until spring. And then winter doesn’t end and spring doesn’t come and it gets later and later. And they stop looking forward to that, too.

There’s a scene where they are sitting around the table. There is just enough wheat for Ma to make one sourdough biscuit each, and she makes them in graduating sizes, from a very small one for Grace, to a very large one for Pa.

Laura says, you can have mine, Ma. She doesn’t even care if she eats anymore. They make her eat. [Although they don’t say it here, a strong theme emerges in other parts of the books, Despair is a sin. If you start to feel depressed, you are required to squash that down and get busy doing something, not to give in to it.]

And then winter ends. A train arrives, and the town breaks into the freight cars and steal enough food for everyone to get a little [leaving some other town where it is bound short, I worry]. Friends come to visit, bringing food. The train arrives with a Christmas barrel which has been frozen solid for months. They celebrate the spring with a huge feast. And the looking forward starts again – looking forward to moving back out to the farm and out of the town.

Anticipation returns.

Now, with the increasing evidence that reinfection is possible, the holy grail of the vaccine seems less promising. And the administration, desperate to tell themselves that all is normal again and people can’t complain about suffering anymore, promises to rush out a vaccine without testing it to make sure it really works. So we can’t even look forward to that anymore.

So with that in mind, I told my husband we should take a trip – rent a car and drive upstate to stay in a friends summer house, which will be sitting empty in the fall. He seems to be agreeing.

Except he thinks we should work remotely there. Not vacation.

Which is not something I look forward to.

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