No Going Back

I remember visiting at my parent’s house for two weeks after my first year of college. It was technically my childhood home, but it had been completely reconstructed after a fire nine months earlier, so it was an odd mix of home and not-home. I had a lot of emotional sorting to do evaluating the newness and not-newness of my surroundings. During the course of my visit I realized that my imbalance was not just that my home had been rebuilt, it was also that the emotional space that my family had held for me to return to was slightly the wrong shape. I’d grown and changed while I was away. I no longer fit neatly into the family patterns or habits. I still remember the surprise of that not-fitting when I’d expected to fit, and the micro-surprise my family expressed when I didn’t respond as they expected. It was all subtle and thoroughly mixed with the joy of being home to visit.

When my daughter came home to visit during her first year of college, she was only a couple of months into her growing and changing. When she came home for the summer after her first year, we sat down and talked about how to create a space for her that was an adult space rather than the child space she used to inhabit in our house. I remember a moment when she realized that there was no going backward, no way to retreat into the comfortable childhood she used to have. She could use the memory of it to sustain her, but she could not have it again. Not in the same way. She had changed, and we had changed, and while we would always hold space in each other’s hearts and lives, our mutual existence had to re-shape around those changes.

I am once again looking around me at surroundings that are both familiar and different. Pandemic has changed my world. It has changed my communities. It has changed the ways that everyone interacts. In the past week I have had conversations with three of my four young adults where they grapple with the idea that a level of security that they used to enjoy (without even consciously realizing they had it) is now gone. They don’t get to have it back. There are hundreds of possible futures where security is rebuilt, but they have to participate in the building of it, they don’t get to just enjoy it. This is their coming of age moment where childhood is gone and they realize they don’t get to go back. None of us do.

I remember sitting in the room which was both my teenage bedroom and an unfamiliar space. I remember sitting with my daughter as she looked at her childhood home unfamiliar. I sit here now in a world shifted around me. It is normal and needed to grieve for what is lost, even when that loss is a necessary part of moving forward, but the moving forward is the more important piece. I can’t unknow the things I have learned about racial injustice, and I wouldn’t want to. I can’t make the economy boom the way that it used to. I can’t reclaim the events which were canceled. Instead I have to plan a future which adjusts for the ongoing pandemic. I have to learn new ways to stay connected to people I can’t see in person, new ways to move through the world so that I protect others as well as myself, new definitions for what safe means. I have to participate in building a new stability, and so my young adults who are coming of age in this tumult. Sometimes this knowledge is exciting: I get to help build a better world. Other times it is overwhelming: there are so many sources of chaos right now. No matter how I feel about it, there is no going back, only forward.