We were supposed to be in Boston. Yesterday we celebrated my son's 16th birthday, and we were supposed to be in Boston.
Spring Break, 2020. We had planned this. With college applications looming in the not too distant future, we had planned a road trip to Boston to begin research on some of my son's college preferences. Six colleges in five days, taking the tours with relentlessly upbeat undergrads crooning to us about the unique virtues of their fair havens of ivory tower wonderlands. My son was excited to embark on this first step towards finding his place in the world for the first four years of adulthood.
Like many 16 year old boys, he has become something of a cipher. Just a few short years ago he was so open. His emotions shown freely to the world, his father a trusted friend and confidant. No more. The happy innocence of grade school, when everyone was his friend, gave way to the harsh, Lord Of The Flies world of middle school, then high school, where he had to develop a tough skin or be crushed. Along the way his innocence died, and his inner life became largely closed to his parents, a wrenching adjustment for all. I no longer am sure of many things with my son, but this I am sure of: he was excited. We were supposed to be in Boston.
Then word began to trickle out of China. A new disease was sickening and killing people half a world away. Perhaps it could be contained. Perhaps not.
Perhaps not. Too late the world at large recognized the severity of the threat. Travel restrictions were imposed, but by then we were closing the barn door after the horses had escaped. There would be no containment. This virus was coming for everyone.
Cases popped up in Washington, and it was still 3000 miles away. Perhaps it could be contained. Perhaps not.
Perhaps not. Day by day it crept closer. Too late the East Coast sounded the alarm and took containment measures. Gatherings were limited, then banned. Businesses were closed. Stores ran out of essentials as panicked customers began to hoard in anticipation of an uncertain future.
E-mails popped up in my son's inbox. One by one the schools he was so excited to visit were shutting down. Campuses closed, visits were canceled.
We were supposed to be in Boston. But it was not meant to be.
My son's school shut down as ever more drastic measures were imposed to try to contain a pandemic that would not be contained. People around us became sick. Some died.
Yesterday I strolled around the neighborhood. It is all we can do now outside. The forsythia were exploding in a riot of yellow sunshine. The magnolias stood silent sentry in coats of pink splendor, keeping watch over the quarantined. Everywhere spring erupted in its timeless show of splendiferous stamens and petals and pollen, the plants engaged in their own world of sexual reproduction, oblivious to the grim specter of death and disease that loomed over the human world.
Along the way I passed a neighbor, deep in conversation with another neighbor, all of us assiduously keeping to our six degrees of separation. The one neighbor was explaining to the other neighbor how upsetting it was that she could not get her piano tuned. The pandemic made that impossible for the time being. You see, she has four pianos, but the one is her favorite, and it is out of tune, and this was her burden to bear in the face of the deadly virus.
I returned home, to my own little cocoon, safe for now from the invisible enemy. Recent days had been filled with the kind of reflections one may not engage in under normal circumstances. But these circumstances were far from normal. My son just turned 16. He is so close to adulthood. But he is not there yet. He still needs his parents, and his parents are at risk. Plans need to be made. What would become of him if we were to die? The thought was abhorrent, but needed urgent attention, so we attended. These are not the thoughts we thought we'd be thinking on our son's 16th birthday.
His mother has cooked him his favorite meal. She is a wonderful cook, and he appreciates it. The meal is finished amid the usual dinner table banter. The table is cleared. We bring out the birthday cake, sing our own weird, unique birthday song he has heard every year since he was born. My mind wanders back to my son as a baby. So small I held him in the crook of my arm, like a football. I have a picture of him like that. It is among my most cherished possessions.
I come back to the present. For reasons I cannot quite fathom, my son at 16 still finds me funny. It is a great blessing. I chance a joke, hoping it will not offend. I offer a toast to my 16 year old boy, the greatest gift of my life. I joke that he is one lucky boy today. He gets to live out the fondest dream of every 16 year old boy. On his 16th birthday he gets to be in self isolation with his two parental units. Yay! He looks at me deadpan for a second, then dissolves in laughter. The joke was not that funny, but he laughs anyway, and nothing could be better. We are home, we are safe, and we are laughing. And I am so very grateful for all of it.
Soon my son will move on to his own life, and I will miss him deeply. But for now, I have him home, and it is the greatest blessing this vicious pandemic could have bestowed on me. In this brave new world we are all navigating, many have lost their health. Some have lost their lives. Some have lost their pianos. And some have gained some precious time with family we would not otherwise have had. Perhaps it takes trying times like these to be reminded of the everyday blessings too easily taken for granted.
Happy Birthday Erik. I am so very grateful and proud to call you my son.
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