Emily Articulated: ‘Since whens’ and sandcastles

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

The porch boards creaked beneath the curve of my rocking chair, chiming in with the tunes and chirps of birds greeting a new day. Long beams of soft sunlight seeped through the trees and played freely with the swirls of steam rising from my coffee mug. I took in a breath — the kind of breath that stretches the lungs to a full feeling of tingling, and held it. As the pressure in my chest tipped past unbearable, I began a long, slow, seeping exhale. Then my phone buzzed. It was a photo memory notification. 

“One year ago today,” it read, with images of concert stage lights, sweaty smiling faces and an uncomplicated gathering of people. The pictures on my phone showed bodies squashed together in a mash of friends and strangers, dancing to music and reveling in unbridled joy.

“When was the last time I felt such easy joy?” I wondered. 

Emily Erickson.

I searched for the feeling of being filled to the brim with carefree elation; a more intense, more dangerous feeling than contentment. 

As the tendrils of my memory stretched further and further back into the past months, tears welled in my eyes. A single line of recent conversation with a doctor boomed in my ears, “I think of us as being in the middle of the beginning of this pandemic,” and my tears spilled over.

They flowed freely, pooling into the hollow of my collarbone, then soaking into my shirt, until they turned to bursts of cruel laughter. 

“Since when had I become so fragile?”

I continued: “Since when did it start feeling like my world was built on a foundation of sand, with something as small as a notification on my phone having the power to tip my morning on its side?”

On and on, I thought:

“Since when did six-feet-apart start feeling more like a state of existence; an emotional gap between myself and others, instead of a mandate of physical distance meant to keep us safe and healthy?”

“Since when did finding community get so complicated, with masks being an acknowledgement of your team? And how could there possibly be teams anyway?”

“Since when did conversations become one-way streets painted in red and blue, in which subscribing to one idea is really a subscription to an entire package of ideas?”

“Since when did our news come from a networking app, with copy/pastes taking precedence over peer-reviewed science? And aren’t our beliefs just being manufactured by the algorithm anyway?”

“Since when did basic human rights and responsibilities get clumped together with how much you want to pay in taxes; with country leaders acting as mascots of reelection instead of defenders of democracy?”

“Since when was there a baseline of heaviness in every decision, in every interaction, in every day?”

The reality is that spiraling into such a succession of “since whens” only has one outcome: I sink deeper into my pit of sand. Instead, I’ll take my crumbled, earthen foundation and build a sandcastle out of “thank goodness for’s”:

“Thank goodness for the amount of meticulous care, time and human-power dedicated to roasting the beans for my coffee, and all the things that had to go just perfectly for me to take my sweet morning sip.”

“Thank goodness for the community’s librarians, whose responsibilities stretch so far beyond facilitating our access to knowledge and resources.”

“Thank goodness for the people in full PPE, exposing themselves to the heat of the day, and the weight of COVID-19 test administration, all just to keep our community safe.”

“Thank goodness for the staff of this paper, filing free page after free page with essential community news and journalistic integrity.”

“Thank goodness for the expanse of accessible public wilderness, making an escape into the forest, the mountains, the alpine lakes, all just a packed bag and tent set-up away.”

“Thank goodness for the creators, the artists, the musicians and all the people who ‘just picked up a paint brush because they finally had the time to do so’ being a constant reminder that hard times really do breed beautiful things.”

“And thank goodness for the opportunity to share my voice, to share in this collective experience and to understand that sometimes all there really is to do is shed big, ugly tears into your perfect morning coffee.”

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