Two Years of COVID Have Forced Us to Recalibrate Our Concept of Hope

“I wish it was over for good or ill,” laments J.R.R. Tolkien’s over-curious hobbit, Pippin, on the eve of Sauron’s siege at Minas Tirith. “I am no warrior at all and dislike any thought of battle; but waiting on the edge of one that I can’t escape is worst of all. What a long day it seems already!”

It was a long day indeed. Many of us have been waiting on the edge for almost two years. There is no end in sight and there is another unavoidable battle ahead. Omicron is on the rise, even in my tiny little cornerNew England. If it isn’t everywhere already — how can we know, given the shabby testing infrastructure we’re still saddled with? — it will be soon.

Fearing this, my mother cancelled her annual Christmas party at her house. She was very matter-of-fact about it — and altogether certain it was the responsible thing to do (I agree, for the record) — but I could hear the sadness in her voice nonetheless. Although our family has never been Currier & Ives when it came to this season, it is still a favorite touchstone, especially since she is the grandmother to a truly remarkable 8-year old. Another book of memories lost before they could ever be made.

My family is still among the lucky in this slow-grinding ordeal. A mid-December report said that New York Times reportCOVID-19 has claimed the lives of one in 100 Americans over 65 years old. This is a shocking 75 percent of the more than 800,000. This leaves a gap at the Christmas dinner table for 600,000 families that have lost an elderly member.

Gloomy times everywhere. A small part in me envies those who think this is all. a big nothing noiseOr they have just decided to be. so over it, you guys.While a fair amount of them may be dead or sick by springtime, particularly those who are not vaccinated, such flat denialism should be energizing.

To not feel like this anymore is deeply tempting, a harlequin abandonment of worries and doubts, until I realize I would rather be lonely and alive than an iconoclastic dying person in an overcrowded ICU, tube down my windpipe in service to lungs now made of ash, begging for the vaccine that can’t help me anymore. A friend who had been double-vaccinated said she felt like her bones were exploding after she was infected with the Delta variant. No, not in the immortal words of Simple Minds, “I’ll be alone, dancin’, you know it baby…”

The hardest part is the perspective shift I have to make if my head is straight. What is the solution to this problem? I have to stop believing this is all going to end someday soon, because it isn’t. A huge swath of the world remains unvaccinated, a dilemma that most Global North leaders don’t seem to be in any rush to address, and every one of those people is a potential petri dish for the next variant, and the next, and the next. Omicron is a mystery, but a proven fast-mover. There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest Omicron’s symptoms are “mild,” but compared to what? What is bear mauling? “Mild” still sounds pretty damn bad, and worse if you are older and/or unvaccinated.

What does it all mean? I don’t know. Maybe it really doesn’t. I do know that these past two years and the ones I suspect will come have forced me to reevaluate what I consider hope. Hope for me used to be results-based: I hope for something, and it happens or it doesn’t. COVID, modern American politics’ climate collapse and generalized awful, broke that mould.

For me, hope is a test to see if there is still hope despite all the reasons that I don’t believe so. The effort of believing can reap its rewards, no matter what the outcome may be and no matter how intangible they may appear. I sound like the last line of “The Last Line from…” Rita Hayworth, Shawshank Redemption (“I hope.”), but it’s the truth. Right now, it’s all we’ve got as we stand like Pippin waiting for the next battle, hoping to have hope.