Our New World

Our New World


Written by – Marianne Riess

T. S. Eliot started his famous poem “The Wasteland” with the line “April is the cruelest month.” We can only hope those words hold true, and that the worst of Covid-19 will be behind us as we enter May and look forward to summer. The virus has turned lives upside down, even for those lucky enough to avoid catching it. Who could have imagined children missing 3 months of school before summer vacation? Or U.S. unemployment claims topping 30 million? And how are we surviving without sports?

I am sure anyone, asked to define essential workers, would have mentioned doctors and nurses, firemen and police. Not many of us realized how essential grocery store workers would become, or mailmen, or Amazon workers or meat processors or transit employees. We have arrived at a whole new way of thinking about our society.

As we examine the toll the virus has taken, social and economic inequality has become glaringly more obvious. Being able to work from home is a privilege. So is getting take out meals, and using shopping and delivery services. Even distance learning is more possible in communities with broadband services, where every child has access to a computer. Situations that are inconvenient for the well off can be life-threatening or impossible for those less fortunate.

It is hard to imagine when life will return to normal. Family traditions have been totally disrupted: weddings postponed, funerals without gatherings, grandparents quarantined, virtual birthday parties on Zoom. Easter and Passover were celebrated without religious services and extended family get-togethers. Mother’s Day is coming up, and Mayor Bill DeBlasio told us yesterday that families that normally honor their mother by all coming to visit should honor her this year by giving her space.

The silver lining is that for the most part, people are doing their best. Not only are they social distancing and wearing masks in public, but they are also trying to help others. Essential workers are putting their health on the line to do their jobs. Teachers are spending hours creating virtual lessons for their students. People are contributing money and food to feed those who are unable to buy their own groceries. Go Fund Me pages help restaurant workers who are unexpectedly unemployed. When times are tough, people usually try to help.

We miss our friends, but we can stay in touch over the phone or social media. The pandemic has given us time with family without the usual distractions. We have come to appreciate simple things. A walk is an outing. A visit from grandchildren, even from six feet away and without hugs and kisses, is a party. Takeout dinner from a restaurant is a real treat and we don’t have to feel self-indulgent because we are helping the restaurant owners and workers to stay in business.

Many restaurants are offering special Mother’s Day take out meals. While that won’t make up for not being together, it can offer a lift of spirits for us and of finances for them. It’s also the season to get gardens started and we have lots of time and pent up energy to devote to them. The nurseries are happy to deliver soil, plants, stakes, and anything else we need. It’s May, and we look ahead with the hope that we will emerge from this time into a better, fairer, smarter world.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.

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