From my Covid journal one year ago: “It just occurred to me that I have no one to tell these stories to. The only people who would be as fascinated as I am are the people who lived on Earth in 2019. I mean, if I could tell this story to them in 2019. But almost no one on Earth in June 2020 would think any of my observations are remarkable or newsworthy because I am merely describing their life. The only way these memories will have the proper impact is in 40 years or so. Maybe Tara and Cameron’s children will be fascinated by my recollections.”
June 5, 2020. “It feels like the story of our country has switched from COVID to racism. That’s appropriate. But it also leaves me in more of a daze than I was before. What should I do to make sense of my life?”
June 8. “T and C marched in a Black Lives Matter march in Corvallis yesterday. I had fear clutch my heart that police were going to shoot tear gas at them or beat them with batons. I was literally in fear of the police. What has happened to us? The kids finished the march and got home safely. Minneapolis has said it’s going to dismantle its police department and come up with a new plan. That’s astonishing to me. A city is willing to give up its police force and think of something else?”
June 11. “Riots are pretty much over, but protests continue strong in many US cities. Interesting, Black Lives Matter protests are also happening in cities around the world. However, they point out that the racism is not as bad as it is in the states. Nice. We’re famous for our racism. People say that it’s different this time, that white people in greater numbers than before are taking an honest look at themselves and asking how they can personally stop reinforcing the system.”
June 12. “I talked on the phone with Tara for an hour and a half. It was one of our best phone calls ever. We mostly talked about racism and white privilege. I am grateful that at age 22 Tara is such an empathetic and thoughtful person. We managed to share our thoughts and feelings so well with each other that we were kind of teaching each other. We both came up with fresh ideas that we had never thought of, like my sudden realization that in public school, no one teaches kids that once they graduate, it’s their responsibility to continue lifelong learning. Tara shared how they are realizing how much they need to learn, and I am feeling the exact same thing right now. I think the most important thing white people can do right now is to realize that we have so much to learn, and start humbly asking and listening. This evening I had dinner with Dan in a restaurant. He wore his mask but I hadn’t thought to bring one. I was thrilled to be in an actual restaurant. I didn’t care about anything except that I was in a restaurant, seated at a table. It was awesome.”
Today in 2021, I can’t believe I was still forgetting to bring a mask with me as late as June! Today it’s so much a part of my life to wear a mask, that businesses are now taking down their “masks required” signs, but I’m still wearing mine indoors. Outside, I’m beginning to shift back. I rarely wear a mask outside, even in a park or on a trail with other people, unless I get too many looks and I’m afraid of being mistaken for a Trump supporter. I’m fully vaccinated and the outdoors has recently been officially deemed safe.
June 18. “I drove all the way into Portland for the first time since March 13. This was to attend a long-postponed dental cleaning. Compared to the empty streets and highways of spring, traffic was more noticeable today. I saw a taxi with clear plastic hanging inside his cab to be between the front and back, and another piece between the driver and someone in the passenger seat. In Portland I was not expecting to see that about 90% of the people I passed had masks on. Just people on the street. Everyone in masks. The homeless people, pushing their carts, sitting in a bedraggled group of three on a concrete curb, all in masks. Such a sight. I wore a mask into the dentist office. I was the only patient. I saw the only hygienist. They were intentionally spreading things out. The seats in the waiting room were reduced and spread apart and the tables and magazines were removed. I asked if it was ok to use the bathroom…wondering if bathrooms make all the rest of this effort a moot point. When they were ready for me the assistant said “Just put your stuff anywhere.” Which again made me nervous because – who else also put their stuff there?”
“After getting my teeth cleaned, I knew I was only about 6 or 7 blocks from the downtown Apple store that had been vandalized, then covered in murals. So I walked up there to look. It was so powerful. The store is all glass and the glass had been broken, so massive, 20-foot tall plywood sheets had been put up. Plywood covers three sides of the store entirely. The sheets were painted solid black by…?? Protestors? Then someone set about writing messages and painting murals and leaving candles and incense and sage and flowers. It’s truly amazing. When I got close to the wall I felt the grief. I felt the waves of grief being held by the wall and it hit me and I cried. I cried the whole time I was there, gasping suffocating breaths inside my mask. Heaving the fabric up against my face, then pushing it out, making the mask into a pillow over my nose and mouth, then sucking it up again. Tears were gushing down my face. There was a group of three 30-something black men there at the same time as me, one with a nice camera, taking pictures. I glanced at them surreptitiously. I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry.” I wanted to hug them, but for selfish reasons. I wanted to share that grief with someone. But do I have the right to express my grief to three black men in this place at this time? I was so unsure of who I was to them. A trigger? A reminder of grief? An inconsequential stranger? A fellow grieving human being? I was too unsure. I left them alone. When we crossed paths, I walked behind them, so they had an uninterrupted view of the mural. At the other end was a middle-aged white couple dressed very nice, no masks. They were gazing at the mural from a distance, dog on leash at their feet, having a quiet, intentional, intellectual discussion. I was glad they had come, but thought they were missing something. They should have gone closer. They should have touched the wall. I wouldn’t have been able to have a discussion in my state. I couldn’t even speak. I was torn apart.”
June 24. “I just heard on Marketplace podcast that the European Union is drafting a plan that lists nationals who will not be welcome to travel to their countries because their own country failed to control the virus. The list includes the U.S.”
The Apple store occupies what used to be the business and commercial center of the city. This is where tourists used to spend time shopping. Across the street, the fancy stores were boarded up in June 2020. One message I spotted said, “Your store can be replaced.” Today, in June 2021, the streets are no longer barricaded, but there are few people compared to the old days. The downtown has seemed abandoned for much of the past year. Businesses are reopening. Many murals remain. I am sad that my city was shuttered and abandoned, and I still have regretful wonder at how much pain a community must be in, that this is the only expression the people feel they have left to use.
In December 2020, Apple covered up the murals to protect them, and in January 2021, it was announced that Apple would be donating the murals to the nonprofit group Don’t Shoot PDX.