My dear sons,
This is the year you were going to walk the stage, shake the official’s hand, and toss a mortarboard in the air while we cheered.
This is the year you were going to relish that one last summer job before the next big step in your life.
This is the spring you might have met the girl who would have become that one special person.
This is the season you were hitting your stride at the new job, just before you were sent home.
This is the spring you were beginning to feel like you belong somewhere – in the classroom, in the office, at the table, with people who finally get you. I would say you were just now discovering your tribe.
Your younger friends were ready to walk in the sun, too – their first proms, their own graduations. Your older friends were scheduling weddings with flowers and music and dancing. Or they were planning to introduce the baby to all the relatives, especially Grandma and Grandpa.
You eagerly turned the page to a new chapter in your book, but somebody had scratched out the chapter title and stamped COVID-19 in ugly purple-black letters on the paper.
I was going to start this letter by saying that someday you will tell your children and grandchildren about life during the coronavirus, and that someday you will look back and laugh.
But it’s not like that. Oh, you will tell stories. There will be funny parts. But it will be no funnier than the story of your great-grandfather, mistakenly pronounced dead from the 1918 flu and placed in a morgue overnight. No funnier than the chapter where the boy graduates from high school and takes his senior trip to Vietnam.
I was going to write that we should not complain about our quarantine when people your age hid from the Gestapo in attics for three years straight. We all recognize this is different and we have more freedom than they did.
Still, this is your youth. Your crisis.
I am tired of telling you that it is not so bad. When you were little, and your favorite action figure disappeared, I told you it was no big deal. I said there are lots of plastic toys in the world.
I was wrong. From a 5 year old’s point of view, it was indeed a big deal. You had not lived long enough, experienced enough years, to have the perspective I did.
I should have hugged you, told you I was sad for you, and offered to help search for the toy.
This time around, please pay no heed if I tell you it is no big deal. I can easily say there will be other jobs, other first dates, other classes, other ceremonies. But that does not diminish the fact that this year’s pages have been ripped from this chapter of your life.
In our family (maybe in other families as well) when something bad happens, our mantra is that “it could have been worse.” I check the newspaper for the latest statistics and I remind myself that in another era I would have been that mother checking the boards at the city square, my heart in my throat, praying I would not see your names among the list of war dead.
Your parents and grandparents like to tell you how tough it was when we were young. Sometimes we talk too much. This is your sorrow, your disappointment, and it came too soon.
Truth be told, I am sad and disappointed along with you. Because I am proud of you, I was counting on celebrating those milestones together.
I want to offer to help find that lost graduation gown, that first date, that summer job that didn’t materialize, that friend you never met.
But I cannot.
Instead I offer you a hug, and my love, and a promise: As a person who has orbited the sun a few more times than you, as long as it’s in my power, I am here for the foreseeable future. I grieve with you. And I love you.