Among my notes from readers last week were some nice ones, for which I am deeply grateful, and some not so nice. “Take your wide load and go back to Australia,” wrote one correspondent, displeased by my stance on gun control. Wide load? It’s true, I’ve put on a few over this plague year (stress brownies!), but still. Rude!
And then there was this one, subject line: “Always reliable.”
“Good afternoon,” it began. “Without fail, you never disappoint.”
“No matter how I felt when I got up in the morning, after reading your column I always feel worse,” it went on. “Your writing ... never fails to take any joy out of a Sunday morning. Thank you for constantly reminding us that life here on earth is hard, tough and is never filled with any joy.”
Ah. On one hand, this is the e-mail equivalent of a stranger on the street telling me to smile. On the other hand, fair enough.
It has been a grim week, a grim year, a grim half-decade from where I sit. We’re at over half a million deaths from COVID in this country, many of them preventable. Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. We’ve had a deadly insurrection at the Capitol and attacks on our democracy continuing across the country, designed to thwart those most likely to vote Democratic, and particularly Black voters. And this after a year that further exposed the horrific wages of this nation’s original racist sins.
It’s hard to feel sunny in the midst of all of that. But though life here on Earth is in fact hard and tough, even an inveterate downer can acknowledge the value of taking heart wherever you can find it.
For example, this season of renewal — spring, Passover, Easter — feels a heck of a lot more uplifting now that vaccines are starting to liberate us. This expert doom-and-gloomer can’t help but enjoy the tulips finally poking through the soil, the garden fresh and neat and full of promise before the weeds stake their claim and entropy prevails.
OK, I shouldn’t have mentioned the weeds. But rest assured, there is plenty of joy to be had right now. Let’s start with those vaccines, which are finally finding millions of the arms that need them most. According to the state Department of Public Health, 18 percent of Black people in Massachusetts have had their first shot. That’s not as good as 28 percent, which is the share of white residents who’ve gotten theirs, but this state is doing a better job than most. Still, meantime, can we please keep masking and social distancing, and not go about acting like nitwits who think we’re invincible ? Because those climbing case numbers are starting to look decidedly not joyful.
OK, I shouldn’t have mentioned the rising infections. But hey, Boston just got its first Black Bostonian, and first woman, as mayor. What a glorious sight, to see Kim Janey being sworn in by Kimberly Budd, the first Black woman to lead the state’s highest court. The acting mayor, a child of the busing era, was also feted by Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Imagine the world of possibilities all of that now makes real for Black girls growing up in the city.
And a remarkable field has formed to take the corner office permanently, full of accomplished folks like councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, who get extra points for being brave enough to declare before former Mayor Marty Walsh was tapped as labor secretary, and city economic development chief John Barros, state Representative and ER doctor Jon Santiago, and City Councilor Anissa Essaibi George — all people of color. And Janey will likely also run to keep her spot permanently. It’s looking like the majority-minority city will finally be led by somebody who shares the experiences of those who have been on the outside for centuries. It is so long and obscenely overdue.
OK, I shouldn’t have mentioned that overdue part. But anyway, those stars are hoping to ascend at a moment when government is back. Finally, thanks to the miseries of COVID, we are once again a country where those in power, and a good share of the voters, believe we have a duty to each other, and that government exists to turn that duty into action. The enormously popular American Rescue Plan passed by Democrats a few weeks ago is putting real money into the pockets of people who have suffered too much, lifting millions of kids out of poverty, and giving businesses and their employees lifelines. It’s going to expose trickle-down economics and deficit hawkism as the fictions they are, which will be bad for the GOP electorally. Which is why they’re doing their best to suppress votes all over the country.
OK, I shouldn’t have mentioned voter suppression (again). But now that I’ve gotten this positive thing going, there is more to celebrate than I have room for here. Like the explosion of spectacular culture we’ve been able to enjoy as we’ve kept closer to home. Those of us with time and resources get to stream into other worlds with an inexhaustible supply of gems: Like “Judas and The Black Messiah,” “Wandavision,” “Call My Agent!” and “The Forty Year Old Version,” whose brilliant writer-director-star Radha Blank was overlooked by Academy Awards judges this year, which makes me so angry I could scream.
OK, sorry about the screaming bit. I’ll take my wide load and go now. Brownie, anyone? I make them with extra joy.