Published in the Rains County Leader on August 18, 2020:
A Tale of Two Cities, the epic historical novel by Charles Dickens, begins with a famous opening sentence: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If you ask most people which of these two choices would best describe 2020 so far, a huge majority would probably choose the latter. Up until last week, I would have readily agreed – but now I’m not so sure.
One night I couldn’t go to sleep, so I left David deep in the land of Nod and went into the living room. After reading for a while, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through some of the posts I don’t usually take the time to look at during the day. Fortunately, few political or controversial posts show up on my timeline – probably because of the type of posts I respond to. Whatever the reason, most of what I get are photos of birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, weddings and other family gatherings.
The first thing I noticed in the posts was the simplicity of the settings. There were no live cartoon characters, castles, flashing lights, or crowds. There were mountains, rivers, hiking trails, and trees. One series of pictures was an engagement that took place beside an oversized Adirondack chair overlooking a lake. It involved a single rose, a ring and two masks. One said “I asked” and the other read “I said yes.”
Some of my favorite posts were of weddings. There were still beautiful dresses and flowers, but most of the ceremonies were outdoors instead of at elaborate venues, and they were attended by family and a few friends. Instead of being reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley 1930s musical, the celebrations seemed to be about two people in love who didn’t want to wait until the pandemic had run its course before committing their lives to each other.
Another thing that stood out to me in my midnight photo stroll was the smiles. Of course, few people post pictures of frowning faces, but these smiles seemed less posed and more genuine. Children were delighted to be having a birthday party on the lawn where there was no danger of running into a giant mouse and no one cared if you accidentally spilled your punch or dropped your cupcake.
There were also several family vacations and other outings that caught my attention. While one grandmother observed that camping next to the river with two grandchildren under three might not be the best idea, the kids seemed to enjoy splashing their bare feet through the shallow water. Grandpa didn’t seem to mind sticky juice box kisses and dad wasn’t too busy to make room for tired child on his lap. And there was no end to the smiles and the laughter.
I also noticed lots of nature photos. Some amazing pictures of flowers, mushrooms, trees, birds, squirrels, snakes, deer and spiders have been posted in recent weeks and months. Apparently, David and I aren’t the only ones who have spent some of our at-home time sitting on the porch. Nature preserves are also great places to social distance and take photos – and the CDC doesn’t care how close you get to the wildlife.
In addition to the positive posts, I’ve seen a lot of posts about what a terrible year 2020 has been including a recent picture of the Goodyear blimp with a caption labeling it as false advertising. Many of us would agree that this has, indeed, been the worst of times. On the other hand, some may look back at that day beside the lake when he gave her a single rose, or that simple ceremony in the rose garden when they committed to each other for life, from a different perspective. And those children who remember the days when dad and mom didn’t go to work and they all sat on the floor and colored, or the vacation when everyone slept in campers and ate outside on picnic tables, may think of these as the best of times. Maybe it’s just all in how you look at it.