As the pandemic reaches the seventh month here in the United States, and our death toll continues to climb — in part due to mismanagement and disinformation on the part of the highest levels of our federal government — we are assaulted by science denial and lies on a daily basis. We watch as the President intentionally sows distrust of the electoral process, spreads baseless conspiracy theories, and has calls for his cult like followers to actively participate in voter intimidation at the polls, as it becomes more and more likely that he will lose the election.
We are, rightfully, wary of our fellow humans — no one knows who is infected or who has been exposed. Most of us wear masks, but some refuse to do so — I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I’d be sure that there is a special place in hell for these people. For those of us who are practicing sanity, we have forgotten what life without masks looks and feels like. We don’t see other people smile.
For many of us, life has taken on a tone of monotony, as if we are living the movie, Groundhog Day, were we are going through the motions and every day feels the same. Blendsday — waking up on Saturday often leads to a moment of confusion about what I have to do for work, only to realize that it is the weekend.
But having the weekend has become small comfort — we can’t really do the things we’d normally do on the weekends like gather with friends and family. Put simply, life doesn’t feel much like the life in the land of the free and the home of the brave lately. It feels dysfunctional because it is dysfunctional. We aren’t living through a time that simple feels dystopian, our time has actually become dystopian in many ways.
This weekend has been different. My son’s scout troop went on it’s first camping trip since COVID started. Things were different on this trip. Each boy slept in his own tent. The adults prepared all the meals. We wore masks all day and gloves during meal prep. We used disposable plates, cups, and flatware. We camped on private land rather than at a campsite — the county parks are still closed to overnight camping and all the state parks are booked.
And yet, it was a change in homeostasis. We were outside. We were together. Doing things. Building fire pits and fires. Boys learning to use tools like axes and saws. Tug of war. Ultimate frisbee.
It was clearly not Blendsday.
Yesterday, in the middle of the day as I was prepping and serving lunch to middle school and teenage boys, I felt something in my chest. A peculiar sensation.
Buzzing. Tingling. Warmth. Excitement.
Moments of joy have been few and far between for so long I almost didn’t recognize it. I mean, I literally felt the feelings in my chest and wondered what was going on. As I made another sandwich, I took inventory of the rest of my body. It was only when I recognized that I was actually smiling under my mask that I could name it.
It was a feeling brought on by doing the next right thing. In this case, being a responsible father, serving young men, being a role model for them, and knowing I was making a difference.
One of the other fathers said it best while we were lounging around a fire mid-day yesterday day, “I needed this.” He was referring to being out in the woods, the fresh air, the petrichor of the forest floor after a passing shower, and the physical activities of camping.
And while I needed all of that, it was not just the experience of getting out in the wilderness that brought on joy. My higher purpose in life was being fully actualized in the moment. That’s what life is all about. That’s how we get through the dystopia.