My wife and I attended a party a few nights ago…a big party under a tent…a gala! Five-hundred guests, chatting, eating, drinking, dancing. We had a grand time and enjoyed being with friends in support of a good cause. And yet, underneath it all, like a riptide in the ocean, there was the lingering threat of that nasty little virus that simply refuses to go away. It was as though somewhere in the back of our collective minds was the memory of a time when we could safely shake a hand, or buss a cheek, or go to a big party without worrying about contracting a disease or ending up in isolation for a few days, let alone in the intensive care unit. Dreamtime.
“Dreamtime” originally referred to an Aboriginal understanding of the world, of its creation, of its great myths and stories. Dreamtime was the beginning of all knowledge, the moment when our oldest ancestors emerged from the earth, born out of their own eternity. It was a time of great magic, the beginning of light, the first dawn. A time of reverence and a place full of symbols, spirituality, and meaning.
But now, I think of “Dreamtime” as the world we inhabited before Covid. Back then, we didn’t wear masks or practice social distancing. We weren’t wary of proximity. We didn’t question science. We didn’t think twice about congregating or sending our kids to school or getting on an airplane. We didn’t carry vaccination cards and we didn’t make appointments to get booster shots or antigen tests. We lived in a bubble of blissful ignorance, at least with regard to a pandemic caused by a spiky little grey and red fuzzball representing something called the Coronavirus. In Dreamtime, we didn’t talk about contact tracing or superspreaders or nasal swabs. Now, there is an entire glossary of Covid terminology that currently runs from Aerosol to Ventilator, with new entries being added every day. Sigh.
It feels like the world is coming to the pessimistic conclusion that Covid is here to stay. We’ll just have to learn to live with it and to treat it like the flu. I’m no immunologist, but maybe the unlikely combination of vaccines and herd immunity will make this virus nothing more than an obnoxious house guest that has overstayed his welcome. Don’t get me wrong: we absolutely need to remain vigilant and do all we can to limit the spread and the virulence of this dreadful plague. As much as I detest the thought of learning to live with Covid, it may be all we can hope for because I sure don’t see it going the way of polio or smallpox or any other disease the World Health Organization has on its eradicated list.
Dreamtime existed before humans walked the earth, and it will exist after all life is extinct. But we live in the here and now. Our world is all too real: just ask someone who has lost a loved one to Covid, or people who live in Ukraine or Buffalo. While Dreamtime may have laid down the patterns of Aboriginal life, our lives today move to a different rhythm, one we are forced to confront every day.
At the party we recently attended, there was an energy that almost bordered on frenzy. We’d all been cooped up too long, and we just needed to blow off some steam. It felt so good to be together again. Let’s just hope it still feels good tomorrow, or the day after.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.