“‘Somehow’ is a weasel word; it means the author didn’t want to bother thinking out the story… When I teach science fiction and fantasy writing I ban the word. Nothing can happen ‘somehow,’” Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft
“Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have tomorrows through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas, now”
Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Ever since I first read what Ursula K. Le Guin said about the word “somehow” I’ve treasured it. When I saw the word in my work or in the work of others, I bristled and sought to rip it out of the sentence. Do better! Write better!
Now I’m not so sure. It’s impossible to effectively plot the outcome of a global pandemic. I mean, the scientists were able to give us some ideas of what might happen if we did or didn’t do x or y. But instead many of us were victims of magical thinking. Regardless of leadership, a global pandemic doesn’t leave a person with a great sense of what’s to come.
Given this level of uncertainty, maybe we need somehow more than ever?
The first time I heard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this year, I cried (and every time since, frankly). It spoke so well to this year of pandemic loss we are all muddling through somehow. Somehow seemed appropriate in this case because we don’t actually know how we’re going to make it through or if we will.
Then I let go a bit more of my hypervigilance and embraced the rest of the song about how next year maybe all of our troubles will be out of sight. We’ll be vaccinated and hugging and kissing and sitting with our loved ones. Our children will be in school. We’ll be traveling and going out to eat and having parties. It will all be great.
It will all be normal.
Will it though? Will there ever be normal again? We’ve all changed. Even those living in denial have changed (though they would deny it). To pretend that this mass collective trauma is not occurring doesn’t make it not occur and it doesn’t change the outcome.
I’ve found that what helps me is to embrace that things are different now. That we now know that wearing a mask helps protect everyone around us from whatever germs we carry. Maybe this will mean that our flu seasons in the future will be less devastating as people will be more likely to wear masks during flu season and to be more thoughtful about washing their hands. Maybe that young woman in my office building will now wash her hands after she goes to the bathroom. Maybe we’ll be more careful about touching door knobs and then touching our faces. Or about covering our mouth when we cough. We’ll know more about how we can work remotely and communicate effectively if need be. Our children will carry forward all that they have learned and be more appreciative of their time with friends.
Of course, we would all probably rather have not learned these lessons and wish more than anything that the lives and educations of our children had not been disrupted, but they have been. And so we grow.
There is no normal. There actually never has been. I know that’s scary to contemplate but repetition does not mean normal. And normal is a subjective word anyway. This is an opportunity to embrace change. Failing that, we can all just keep muddling through somehow and that’s okay too.
Here’s what I can say for certain: I’ll not take hugs from friends for granted and the touch of a human hand will mean so much more than it ever has before.
I’m holding out my hand to you. Let’s both be lights in this dark world.