Our 9-year old granddaughter went out on the terrace of our 3-story Townhouse to drink a glass of water. She was by herself. She called down to me in the Garden, one floor below.
“Hi Grampy,” she said.
“Hi Sweetheart,” I answered, waving back to her. “You’re much taller than I am now.” She smiled. “Can I come up and sit with you?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. So, I went upstairs, filled up a cup with water and we sat out on the terrace and chatted for a few minutes, uninterrupted. It was a rare moment in time, outdoors, enjoying the first day of non-smoky air in over a week. Then she asked me a question she had clearly been thinking deeply about.
“What do you think is worse, Grampy; COVID or the Fires?”
“Wow, “ I said. “That’s a very tough question. I guess I would say that the Fires are worse in the long-term. There are lots of scientists working on vaccines for COVID, so we can resume some normal things, like playing with friends, and I’m optimistic by next summer we’ll have a vaccine that we can take. So, I think, for now, we just have to keep wearing masks, but once we get that vaccine, it will reduce the threat of COVID.”
She and her sisters had been assiduous in wearing their masks since mid-March — the last time they visited us at our house — spending most of their time at home, doing distance learning, fortunate to have each other as playmates. They called the other kids in their neighborhood who didn’t wear masks, “The COVID Brigade.” Only within the past few weeks, had we expanded our “bubbles” to include each other. We could, at last, hug these loves of our lives, but agreed not to kiss, nor share food or drink.
“But, the fires, “ I said, conscious about how much she worries about natural disasters, “I think they’ll be with us every year, and we’ll just have to get better and better at dealing with them.”
“I think the Fires, too,” she said, “and the smoke that makes it so we can’t go outside to play. I feel bad for the people who have to evacuate their homes during COVID, too.” This from a nine-year old. Amazing.
“I do, too, honey, “ I said, “That’s why we’re so fortunate that if you had to evacuate you could come live with us. A lot of people are not so lucky.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m just worried that since it’s October, when the winds come, we’ll have more fires.”
I tried to relieve some of the worry of this budding young scientist, who voraciously reads everything she can get her hands on about planets and space, and devoured all of the Harry Potter books within the past two months, and has now worked her way back through Book III.
“Well, we might not, ” I said. “Since the fires started so much earlier this year, maybe we won’t get them again in October. Maybe the winds won’t be as bad; the weather changes every year, so maybe it won’t be as bad, and we’re supposed to get some rain next week.”
I was blown away by how deeply she thought about these things, coming into the 7th month of the Pandemic, and following the second major set of wildfires in the North Bay region of California since August. I wanted to reassure her that things would get better, but not lie to her. I hope I said the right things. I felt a bit like Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful.”
I looked at this precious human, and it underscored my understanding of why it’s imperative we get things right — with COVID, with Climate Change, with everything that touches her life, and troubles her tender heart and mind. I hugged her, and wished I could protect her forever, and make all of her nightmares go away.