by Barb, in Maine, where it is gorgeous, still warm but fall is in the air
“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry to Major General William Henry Harrison, Battle of Lake Erie, War of 1812
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”Walt Kelly, Pogo, Earth Day, 1970
Our next door neighbor when I was in middle school and high school, a good friend of my parents, owned a summer place, an old farmhouse on a dirt road with a pond and a bunk house. It was absolutely nothing special, and yet very, very special. When you were there, somehow all your responsibilities seemed to melt away. The rustic nature of the house was part of what made it so, there was no obligation to keep busy. And there was the isolation. It was the perfect place for reading and napping and taking dips in the pond.
Our friend was there one night, sitting in a folding lounge chair, watching the stars, so beautiful in those places where there is no light pollution, when she heard heavy footsteps in the underbrush nearby. She was completely alone. No one would have heard her scream. She waited, stock still, heart banging, until the steps moved off. When it was over, she had the sudden insight that despite all the scary things it might have been, the species she was most afraid of was her own.
The species we are most afraid of is our own. I have thought of this so often. It always informs my mystery writing.
I’ve been thinking about this insight in a different way lately.
Last year Bill and I were very isolated. We fully stayed inside for two weeks before and after we saw our children and grandchildren, who were pretty much the only people we saw. Meal delivery and Netflix was a big night. This year is different. My grandchildren are in school or daycare, my daughter back in the classroom teaching college freshman. Bill and I are going to outdoor restaurants, and ball games, small gatherings with friends, and having house guests.
Our county in Maine is highly vaccinated and our infection rate is low. Still, we are aware that our three granddaughters are unvaccinated. Throughout 2020, before vaccines and effective treatments, our children tended to treat Bill and I, members of a vulnerable age group, like Faberge Eggs. They never would have forgiven themselves if they’d gotten us sick. Now we feel the same way about the youngest members of the family.
My daughter and family have a wedding and a baby shower to attend this fall. I did Books and Boothbay on Saturday, the biggest event I’ve been to in 18 months.
Around every one of these activities and events, there’s a conversation.
“Is it outdoors?”
“Do we know who will be there? Are they vaccinated?”
“Will people be wearing masks?”
And then there is a weighing of risk, and a decision, to go or to decline.
It occurred to me recently: What we are afraid of is people. Not sworn enemies, people out to kill us. People we like and even love. True, these people are merely potential vessels for the real enemy, the virus, but we are in a constant negotiation about our relationships to and interactions with our fellow human beings.
Even some people who don’t normally suffer from social anxiety are finding re-entry freighted. We have to retrain our fight or flee instinct not to react to friends and loved ones. It’s bizarre and maddening and saddening.
We have met the enemy and he is us.
Readers: How are you negotiating this time? I’m not looking for the political. (“Don’t get me stahted,” as we say in New England.) I’m looking for the personal, and if you’re comfortable sharing, the emotional. Let us know in the comments below.