Lost jacket

Last night J and I watched the National Dog Show, which has become a Thanksgiving tradition. A Scottish deerhound named Claire won Best in Show for the second straight year: this year with fans rather than cardboard cut-outs in the stands, and with most of the handlers trotting around the ring without masks.

Not surprisingly, the day after I blogged about learning to live with COVID-19, today’s news is full of worrisome details about a new variant out of South Africa that seems to be highly transmissible and could evade current vaccines. If both traits are true, this would be a game-changer, but it’s too early to tell for sure. In the meantime, we continue to be both vigilant and nimble, reminding ourselves of all the other times we thought we were out of the woods, only to have the situation change.

This much I know: we live in the woods, so we’ll never be out of them. Many of us see Life in the Age of COVID as a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and we long for the stability and security of the Before Times. But here’s the troubling truth: we weren’t safe or certain then, we just fooled ourselves into thinking so.

The pandemic has made many folks acutely aware of their own mortality as well as the fragility of everything from the economy to global supply chains. But “we” were never safe or certain even in the Before Times: our lives have always hung on a slender thread, and the next moment was never guaranteed. The pandemic didn’t create this fragility; it simply illuminated it.

People plan, and the gods laugh. Countless times over the past almost-two years, I’ve remembered a passage from Momma Zen where Karen Maezen Miller describes motherhood like this: as soon as you adapt to your child’s current life-stage, they grow out of that stage, and you have to adapt anew. Everything Changes when you’re raising a small child, and this dictum applies to the pandemic and everything else because “Everything Changes” is the law of life itself.

One of my most vivid memories of pandemic teaching came one early-evening last year when I was prepping in-person classes for the next day. With a ping in my inbox, everything changed: an email announced an uptick in campus COVID cases, so the next day’s classes would go remote and students would shelter in their rooms while the college completed contact tracing.

Without batting an eye, I scrolled back through the lesson I’d planned to teach in my classroom on campus and made a few changes so I could teach from my desk at home instead. Living in the Age of COVID means being perennially nimble: plan, make adjustments, then plan to adjust again.