So They May Wipe Their Brow and Know They're Not Alone
By Grace KA Brewer:
It’s insane how fast life begins and ends. It wasn’t even death—just some weird matter of fate—that led us all to this place. I’m not sure if I’m writing about the pandemic or every other fucked up thing that’s happened over the span of a few months, but maybe we’ll find out together.
My little brother was born the day after my 82-year-old great-grandmother’s birthday. I doubt that 82 years prior, on some farm in the middle of nowhere, her own mother imagined her new daughter meeting her great-grandson all those years later.
My older brother was born in early October. While he celebrated his birthday one year, our dad met who would later become the love of his life.
My other, now estranged, brother was born on New Year's Eve, 1999. Our birth mother used to tell us this story about how everyone thought the world was going to end as the clock struck midnight, signifying the start of the new millennium. I doubt she thought that 20 years later, while they celebrated his birthday, a deadly virus would make its first appearance and change everything.
It’s funny how fate works. It could creep up on us and grab us from behind. Or it could stand right before us, smacking us in the face. Either way, we’d never see it coming.
I find it hard, just as a student, to express how this all impacted my own life. As someone who isn’t a healthcare worker and hasn’t lost a loved one to COVID-19, everything I think feels frivolous. I will still say these things though. There’s always someone who could benefit from one's personal thoughts.
“So that they may wipe their brow and know they’re not alone.”
— Alan Watts
I like to be busy, a whirlwind of activity. January was unending. The first Saturday after Winter Break brought a competition, an early morning, and a 40-minute car ride. I made jokes with a girl who had the same last name as me, quoted textbooks I’d read in preparation. Smiled, laughed, shook people's hands.
The next week came prep for another competition two weeks later and an event in February. Everything was fast-paced, a blur of dates, events, timestamps, to-do lists. The end of January came and went, and with it a trip to Tampa, a long car ride, walks to CVS, paper bags of peanuts and a can of espresso passed around the room. The beginning of February was more to-do lists, arguments, deadlines, long nights, and then celebration and Dunkin' Donuts.
The first week of March was much the same as February. And then it just stopped. Competitions were cancelled, exams were taken, and the school was promptly closed.
I had 11 more days after my last day of school before I wouldn’t go out in public again for weeks. I bought coffee and candy on my last Target outing. And then, would mobile order Chick-Fil-A or Panda Express. For some semblance of normalcy, the feeling of going to a restaurant while indoors or drinking one of my many cups of coffee, I’d call my friends while I drank my morning coffee or enjoyed a chicken sandwich. We’d laugh and joke, and then hang up. I’d close my eyes afterward and try to remind myself of who I was before this. The Grace who would walk for hours, stay out late; the Grace who stayed at the school much longer than her teachers because everything had to be done to get a good night's sleep; the Grace who would drink coffee and energy drinks just to keep moving a bit longer.
I couldn’t find any remnants of myself among the statistics, death rates, CDC reports.
I walked to the park that surrounded my school and thought back to January. It was early, just like that morning all those weeks ago. I remembered closing my eyes that day, savoring that moment of peace.
In March, though?
I would’ve stood in a hurricane if it meant hearing something other than my own thoughts.
I know that nothing just ended, too. I had celebrations to commemorate my graduation amidst the chaos. I stayed in touch with everyone. But in some ways, it felt like some part of me had been chipped away, lost in the news and YouTube ads to “wash your hands and practice social distancing.”
Then, little by little, some aspects of life returned to normal. I dropped by my school a few times to help out and grab some belongings I needed. I walked the empty hallways of the place I’d spent the last 4 years in. I went to the store for the first time since March. I went on a drive with my friend, got coffee, and sat in a parking lot, laughing until we cried. And for the first time since I took my last exam and went home after school, I felt like Grace.
Still, some things were different. I added a mask into my game of “find all the things I need before I have to leave my house.” I brought hand sanitizer when I went out, learned to not press my hand against the crosswalk button while I walked to the store.
And as I write this, I’m counting down the days to my 18th birthday.
I like the idea of birthdays having some meaning beyond a 9-month count from some drunken encounter, a one-night stand, wedding night—whatever the circumstance. I, myself, was born on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. For a while there, I thought that meant life would just keep dragging on.
Now, I realize it just means that I have a longer time to make the next year better.
Grace KA Brewer prefers a quote instead of a bio to explain how she moves in the world—
“Success is not how high you have climbed, but how you make a positive difference to the world."
— Roy T. Bennett