This maddening time has been greedy for our goods. Whatever your station and situation, COVID-19 has surely reached its gooey fingers into your world to take, and take, and take.
But every here and there, those grubby paws have dropped gifts into our laps. And, once we’ve thoroughly disinfected those gifts before bringing them into the house, we’ve been surprisingly richer.
There’s the kindness of strangers.
The kindness of kinfolk.
The way that being forced to see our neighbors has made us more neighborly.
The call to creativity, boosted by boredom.
Motivation to use that can of cannelini beans that’s been in the pantry since the Clinton administration.
Madness enough to make art after we thought we were too old.
And now — or at least, soon — the chance at second firsts.
So many of the ordinaries we take for granted — school and work and the diner and Aunt Gertrude’s house etc. — have been taken by those grabby, greedy pandemic hands. They’ve been whisked away just long enough that we’re starting to forget the very places and people and cats who remember us to ourselves when we’re lost.
Which means one thing: the old, worn-soft normalcies are about to shine like new nickels.
We’ll never be able to have another first time we walked into Tabby’s Place, or hugged that friend who shares our soul, or ordered a vegan Reuben from the waitress with the blue bouffant. But now, as the flowers reopen one after another, we get to have a second first time.
As hope takes hold in our corner of New Jersey — cases are down! neighboring PA is turning yellow, then green! — we’re daring to look forward to all our second firsts.
The second first time I step into that sunny lobby, only to be accosted by the strangest, holiest creatures this side of heaven. The paraplegic cat who rules all that she surveys; the old tuxedo with half-crooked markings and a solid-citizen soul; the orange space oddity who can untwist my problems by the gentle force of his purr.
The second first time I peek out into a solarium, only to have a cat come charging down a cat-sized ladder through a cat-filled patio for the sole purpose of blitzing me with meows. Steven sings with joy; Adam careens with invincible cheer; Faye oozes old-Hollywood allure while simultaneously convincing me that I am the most alluring creature ever to exist. (Yes, she does this to every human. No, that does not diminish the flattering fabulosity.)
The second first time I sit on an ordinary-looking couch, only to be filled with warmth and love and wonder that such a place as this even exists. A cross-eyed tabby takes over my lap, then bites me; a ball of chubby peach fluff beckons me with eyes bluer than the most precious stone; a lunatic longhair with bum legs and perfect confidence yells his head off to be ferried about in a stroller.
Is this all real? The feisty love, the stubborn devotion, the rebellious commitment to the weird and the lonely and the real? This improbable, incredible, warts-and-all wondrous place?
Much like the mysteries and marvels in our care, really.
We shall not even speak of the second first time I hug Bucca. (Can I even type those words without getting verklempt? No; no, I cannot.)
But we shall dream of the second firsts that will soon, soon, soon be our reality.
Dream with me, dear hearts — and not for the last time.