“I am sick of looking on the bright side!” Thus spoke one of my daughters after being admonished to do just that in the wake of some childhood disappointment. Now all of us are too exhausted by the pandemic’s legacy of loss and anxiety to search for the bright side or even to believe it exists.

We’ve had to give up a lot during the pandemic, but spending more time at home also means more time to curl up with a good book. Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com

Being retired, I have not suffered from any of the restrictions or economic convulsions that have harmed others. But we have all had to forgo many simple pleasures as well as the rituals that shape our lives: weddings, graduations, family parties, even funerals.

What, then, are the silver linings of this pandemic? Fewer colds, more walks, more reading, online shopping? Wearing masks has seemed burdensome, but I confess that on the coldest days a mask keeps me warmer and might be a part of my future winter wear. These small boons might constitute a silver lining, but the virus’ dark cloud overwhelms them.

John Milton first used “silver lining” in a masque written in the 1630s. The heroine, a lady who is later kidnapped, asks her companions: “Was I deceived? or did a sable cloud/Turn forth her silver lining on the night?” In the story an evil kidnapper tempts the heroine to indulge her appetite for food, drink, sex and other sensual pleasures.  Relying on reason, the lady resists these blandishments. This conflict echoes today when those who urge us to embrace science arouse opposition from those who argue that the virus is a hoax, that we should indulge our appetites for eating in restaurants, drinking in bars and socializing.

But science has created a real silver lining – vaccines that promise to end the virus and to restore ordinary life. At the end of Thornton Wilder’s ”Our Town,” Emily, who has died while giving birth, is allowed to return to life as an observer. When this proves too painful, she returns to her grave, and her farewell is a paean to mundane pleasures:  “Goodbye to clocks ticking …  and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!” Perhaps the brightest silver lining for those of us who have lived through this pandemic is a keener appreciation of life’s ordinary pleasures.

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