July arrives this week. July. Impossible.
That’s how long we have spent inside obeying the rules. Having our groceries delivered. Washing doorknobs. Disinfecting counters and floors and packages. Staying 6 feet apart from anyone not under our roof. Staying 6 feet apart even from the people we love.
Restaurants in Massachusetts are now open. And beaches. And retail stores. We’re inching our way away out of isolation. We’re making progress.
Fewer people are getting sick here, too. And fewer are dying. This is progress. But COVID-19 is not gone. It’s still out there. It didn’t disappear.
We hid from it.
Now, all these months later, despite our progress, nobody knows for certain where this virus started and when it’s going to end.
Now, all these months later, we have still have more questions than answers.
Will there be camp in August? Will there be school in the fall? When will it be safe to see my friend in Maine and my son and his family in Manhattan? Will I have to quarantine for 14 days if I visit them? Will they have to quarantine if they come here?
Is it safe to visit a friend if that friend is with other friends? How many other friends? Is it OK to be outside without a mask? But inside with a mask? Six feet apart always or just sometimes? Are taxis safe? Is driving with a friend? And how can you drive anywhere with anyone and be 6 feet apart?
More questions: Will life ever be as it was? Are hugs gone for good? And handshakes? And choirs? Will people travel again? And after this pandemic has ended, will there be another?
I don’t know. We don’t know. My husband says this is the world we live in now, the Land of I Don’t Know.
I don’t know who to believe.
I don’t know who to trust.
I don’t know what to do.
I don’t even know whether it’s safe to flush a public toilet.
I used to know things, I tell my family, joking, looking for something to joke about. I knew that brown cows gave chocolate milk because my father told me. I knew that my clapping saved Tinker Bell from death. I knew that there was a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow and that a wish on a first star would always come true.
I believed all these things because I believed everything I was told.
And then one day I didn’t. Which leads me to now.
I didn’t know, for example, about “Black Wall Street” — the nickname given to the thriving black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Okla. — burned to the ground by a white mob in 1921. I didn’t know until a few weeks ago when I read about it and then watched a “60 Minutes” segment.
I went to high school, college, grad school. I taught school. I watch TV. I read. How did I not know about the burning of an entire neighborhood?
I asked friends. I asked family. No one knew.
So why didn’t we know, and what else don’t we know?
As a child, I was told and I believed that children who lived in the Soviet Union were to be pitied not only because they had to spy on their parents for the government, but because the history they were taught was a lie. Anything bad the Russians had done wasn’t included in history books. So Russian children learned only good things about their country.
In America, we got the whole truth.
Only we didn’t. And we don’t.
We are, right now, stepping into the land of I Don’t Know. And though there are rules to protect us, the places we frequent — restaurants, museums, hair salons — have stringent requirements they must follow in order to reopen and stay open, we are ultimately responsible for ourselves.
Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Sneeze into your elbow. Stay 6 feet apart. Is that it? Is this enough?
Inside restaurants, cutlery must be wrapped. No condiments are allowed at the table. And there’s a limit to how many people can be seated. The list goes on and on and on.
No one is directing families. No one is making lists and saying that it is not OK to have a bunch of people in your family room eating and drinking and not wearing masks.
Is this safe we ask, then look to authorities for answers. What gets us in trouble and divides us and has the potential to kill us, is that the answers we get depend entirely upon the authorities we ask.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.