Emergers are tiny aquatic insects that begin life at the bottom of streams and rivers before transforming into air-borne creatures like caddisflies and mayflies and midges. On fine spring and summer days, you will see them swarming in the air above streams, rivers, and ponds.
They are called emergers because of the incredible journey they must make to transform themselves from swimmers to fliers, from a world of water to a world of air, to the next stage of their lives.
When the time comes to leave the bottom of the stream, these pupae and nymphs fill their exoskeletons with gas so that they can become buoyant. Only then can they begin the perilous journey to the surface, battling currents, risking hungry fish, and building up enough speed to break through the surface.
To survive is largely a matter of luck. Only half of them succeed.
This spring, humans across the planet have become a kind of emerger as we transition from more than a year of submersion in life under the influence of a pandemic. Miraculous vaccines are the gas that will carry us out.
And we are lucky ones.
I’m going no further without saying this: We must never forget the 2.69 million souls (as of this writing) whose luck – and don’t think it was anything but bad luck – ran out as the virus claimed them.
And so the lucky go forward. And I wonder as we do so what this year we leave behind and what do we take with us as we go.
I don’t mean stuff. I’ll take the overpriced Peloton bike that was going to allow me to leave the pandemic as an athlete with legs of iron but which I may have used three times. And I’ll take the guitar I was going to learn to play but tuned once.
No, I was thinking about things that are less tangible.
Like my anonymity. I grew to like being able to walk around the city as just another nameless, faceless masked man.
Or my solitude. I know, I complained about loneliness a lot, but that’s not the same. Often, I liked being alone without the possibility of anyone coming in the door. I liked sitting and thinking as I looked out the window undisturbed as I pondered questions big and small or not at all.
I liked reading whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted.
I liked the idea that I could stay in bed for five days if I wanted to and nobody would know, even though I never did that for even one day.
I will take those things along. And I will take along the photographs that I shot during this year. Maybe I’ll make a pandemic album. Or maybe not.
I’ll definitely hold on to special relationships that I developed or that deepened during the pandemic.
Human relationships, but also relationships to books that entertained me or transported me away, or music played over and over again to accompany me in my many moods. And new music that I don’t think I would have otherwise discovered.
Turbocharged anxiety and fear that developed from eyeballing way too much news.
Wallowing in despair.
Long, scraggly hair. (Actually, I did kind of like that.)
Acute loneliness. Remember how much I liked solitude? Well, I detested loneliness almost as much. I longed for warm bodies near me, for touch, for soft whispers in my ear, for dinner companions, for someone to answer when I walked into the house and called, “Hello?”, which I continue to do after all this time alone on the chance that sometime someone will answer.
Pretty soon I hope to leave behind FaceTime and Zoom, and the ugly stubble on my unshaven chin that seems pronounced on screen. I can’t wait to see all those pixelated faces emerge from the screen as three-dimensional human beings.
And goodbye to the procrastination that left undone all those things I was going to accomplish during the pandemic. But that can wait.
Oh, and goodbye near misses – those times when I was convinced that I had had a close encounter with COVID-19 and had to quarantine for a couple of weeks.
I’d like to leave panic behind too. And catastrophic thinking. That won’t be easy.
My friend Tom talks about exploring “new strategies that might lead me away from thinking that was leading me nowhere.”
His strategy: “When catastrophizing about the future, I jump on it and say to myself this is just a habit and it’s a waste of time and it’s not useful. I then go on for another 20 seconds or so explaining to myself how useless this habit is. By the time I have thought about that I have derailed my future-based thinking, plus I actually think I have convinced my body and my automatic brain that it was a waste of time.”
As I said, not easy.
It would be nice to be one of those emerger insects and not have to think so damned much. To just let go. To float toward the light, to break through the surface, and take flight into a fine spring day.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.