One day this will end.
It might not seem like it right now. And the other side is still a very long ways off. But, one day, some day, god willing, life will return to some sense of normalcy. There will be concerts again, and full stadiums, and restaurants, and we will be able to leave our homes without anxiety and celebrate milestones with our families.
Of course, it won’t be the same. Too much has changed. I tend not to agree with the prognosticators predicting sweeping social change post-virus, but life has gone on as we have been quarantined — people have died, people have lost their jobs, babies have been born, our favorite restaurants have closed, athletes have retired — and so, no matter what, the world we will emerge into will be different than the one that existed before.
But for the most part, it will be the world we knew. People will still want to gather together in person, America will still be a wild mess of partisan politics. And then time will pass like falling leaves. And this time will become, for the large majority of us, a speed bump in a long life. We will never forget these days, of course, but soon they will just be that: memories, like all of our other memories.
And so how do we remember? What relics do we bring with us to the other side? It can’t just be memories, those erode and fade away and are colored with the vagaries of time. And so it has to be something real, tangible, concrete.
I was thinking about this today while waiting out the rain delay in Manchester.
We will have these cricket matches, of course. That’s where my brain first went. We will have these weird, quiet, dystopian cricket matches. First now in England and later in the UAE this fall. All those head bands, and players using the sweat from their backs to rub down the ball. And the camera panning over an empty stadium, and commentators talking of the bubble, and pandemic protocols. And the “Black Lives Matter” logo on the score graphics. Five, 10, 50 years from now, we will watch highlights of these matches and our reaction will be something like: “Wow, remember the pandemic? That was weird and awful.”
The images will transport us straight back to these weird days, watching on our laptops at home, where we have been for months and months. And for this reason, I am glad sports are back, even the ones that are doing it wrong, or plowing ahead when they should really be dialing back. Sport, like few other things, marks time. We might not remember what it was like to go grocery shopping in May of 2020, but we will remember watching sports. When I think back on Arsenal winning the FA Cup this summer, I will think about the empty stadium, and watching it in my friend’s backyard with two other friends, our chairs spaced six feet apart. The FA Cup will help me remember. Sports will help us all remember. And I think that is a good thing.
I have been, and I will always be, a believer in the power of sports to help us mark time. But in the age of coronavirus, it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like it will do these days — these dark, frightening, mind-boggling days — justice. The whole — the entire damn world, every damn corner — is affected by this, and it’s here and it’s going to be here and there’s simply nothing we can do but follow the protocols and pray. We are already getting used to all of it, too, which means the chance to hold onto something real that will remind us of all of this is slipping away.
Then I thought about the grocery lists.
I have been grocery shopping for my mother since March. Every Tuesday morning, I buy her apples and her bananas and her Hamburger Helper and her popsicles and her instant oatmeal and her bread and her lunchmeat. And the day before, every Monday, she emails me her list, with instructions on what not to buy unless I can get it on sale, and that she’s always okay with the store brand.
Nothing is forever in the digital space, but I will have these emails for a long time to come. And decades from now, when she is gone, and COVID is a forgotten blip on my radar, I will stumble across them, and they will break my heart like few things have. And then I will be transported back to 2020, and the pain, and the sadness, and the fear, they will become personal, and then the memories will do these days justice. I will think not of mask wars, or pandemic bubbles in the UAE, but of driving to the suburbs every Tuesday, the traffic light for a weekday, bringing my mother her groceries, her waiting on her front stoop for me, as I unloaded the small bags of the things on her list into her garage. And her quiet life, her lonely life, spelled out before me in ones and zeroes, on a laptop screen. Our memories of this time need not be sweeping and large, they need instead to be small, private, ours. Then we will remember. Remember not just life during a global pandemic, but mothers, moms, and the insistent whisper that one day they will be gone, and time is like water in our hands, and then they are gone, and all we have left are grocery lists, and we are both thankful forever for them and terrified of reading through them.
Because of how memory works, because we are all context, patterns in the wallpaper, now when I think of cricket during the pandemic — of Stuart Broad’s “don’t call it a comeback” performance against the West Indies, or of umpires and trainers and commentators in masks — I will also think of my mother, and her grocery lists. Another gift from a sport that continues to give them. When we allow our minds to breathe, associations happen. Sometimes we can’t remember why, for instance, we think of an old boss every time we pull laundry out of the dryer. But sometimes we can remember. At some point in the future, I will think of Dom Sibley batting for nearly 10 hours in Manchester one July, I will then think of butter on sale, and my mother’s worried eyes, and being thankful she was allowing me to help, and how hard it was to pull out of the driveway without being able to stay for a while, drink all of her coffee, talk about dad and growing up, because the world was on fire.
I also hope the opposite is true. That when I think of those grocery lists, I will also think of that summer of cricket in England. When all we wanted is normalcy, something that felt like what we remembered, and how, for short bursts of time, here and there, when our minds drifted into the pace of the overs and the deliveries, we were allowed to remember, and it was a gift, and it was thanks to this old game that is surviving its second pandemic, that’s seen three different centuries, that just keeps marching on, urging us to keep up.