The other day I drove past my daughter and son’s old childcare centre. It’s an unremarkable building, white with a black roof, built to its asymmetrical best through multiple additions spanning decades and whims of past owners. At twelve months old we left our kids there eight hours a day, in the care of almost complete strangers, most of them certified. There is an element of trust in that transactional exchange that I still find confounding. It’s not unlike the trust we place in doctors and pilots, bordering on the irrational. Life, at its essence, is as precarious as a nest of blue eggs built on underside of a deck, something as harmless as a gust of wind or a brush with a young boy’s hand could alter its future.
It’s not remarkable in itself that I drove past the centre, since I do most weeks. But I had been recently isolating away from my family after testing positive for Covid-19. I was still wistful and nostalgic for my kids, who cried when I left them for a few days. It was likely not my absence but the suddenness of it all, vanishing within minutes of a positive rapid test. It’s not lost on me that the people of Ukraine, and most refugees for that matter, experience those feelings a thousandfold, their flight, separations and persecutions, as plaguing as arthritis.
I was not in my usual frame of mind as I passed the hodgepodge of a building, remembering what it was like when my kids were young there. Two memories still pop for me. Picking up my daughter on one of her first days, her hair plastered to her head with dried sweat, the mark of every snack and meal she ate that day on her face and clothes. There was nothing graceful about all of our early days, and that image stays with me as a constant reminder. The other event was my wife and I showing up for my son’s Christmas party during lunch. Of course he was too young to even know what Christmas was, to fully comprehend the red and green art that was being presented to us on his behalf as a memento for the season. On that day, unbeknownst to ourselves, my wife and I showed up wearing the same outfit. Black pants and almost identical purple sweaters—yes, we owned and wore similar purple sweaters, but that deserves a post of its own. We were obviously mortified to show up there dressed as pastel Easter eggs, and made sure to explain to the caregivers that this was a mixup and not intentional. That we were not that sort of couple to coordinate outfits like that. The caregivers laughed, saying they thought it was weird. And it was weird, but it wasn’t. There are days and weeks where my wife and I are so in sync life is effortless: the joy, the jokes, the rhythm of our conversations, the silence that fills the end of our days as we read and fall asleep. It’s called interpersonal synchronization. But there are those times, occasionally spanning multiple days, where we are on completely different wavelengths. We are our own people, confused, bordering on frustrated, why the other can’t keep up with our program. This is one of those Seinfeldian phenomenas, in that we all face it in the same and unique ways.
This is a roundabout way of saying I don’t feel in sync with the world right now. I keep getting the error message: [device name] cannot be synced. An unknown error occurred (-54). I am sure I will again but I have lost its rhythm. I no longer find joy in it in the way that I once did. I don’t laugh at its jokes with the same abandon. I don’t play its game with the same hunger for a win. I don’t look forward to the days ahead. It isn’t just that people are divided, or that they seem to have a with us or against attitude, or they dip their heads when they pass strangers on the sidewalk, as if a virus can be spread by eye contact.
I recently travelled overseas, to a place where we all pretended there was no pandemic. We all accepted the same elevated risks of travel, and there was no judgement about our choices. I people watched again, eavesdropped on conversations about endlessly-fascinating nothings. Two women talked at length, in front of me, on how the world needs more female coders. I was fast reminded of what I had been missing. There was a general kindness among strangers, making chitchat as they waited in lines. There was eye contact, a hunger to be kind. I was excited again by the prospect of getting up each morning, as were they.
What I realized through all of this is that life has always been about choices and calculated risks. For the past two years we have not been able to make some of our own choices, for the benefit of public health, whose risk tolerance, rightfully so, was low. But now we are free to make more choices. And we need to let people decide for themselves, without judgement, what they need out of their lives.
We are born into risk. We somehow must find the courage to live. We may not always get our choices right, there may be setbacks, but I guarantee you there will also be moments of profound joy, where we want to slow down our lives, live those moments again and again. I felt those moments when on vacation with my family and close friends, even if they feel far away now.