The antidote

It was Greek Day at school one day last week, and at pickup Summerly climbed into the car and handed me this:

It’s her very own Pandora’s Box, embellished with rhinestones and decorated in her characteristic style (I like to describe it as “slapdash with panache”). “There’s something inside it,” she said. When we got home, much like the eponymous box’s original owner, I couldn’t resist investigating its contents. What I found within was a set of folded strips of paper, each but one inscribed with a “misery” of our world, and a single shred of hope tucked among them. Look at this:

Her “misery” is that Covid-19 is making people sick, and her hope is an end to Covid-19. This rendering of the current human mindset is simultaneously simplistic and profound, and for some reason it flooded me with feelings. Who ever dreamed that our second graders would live in a reality where this dichotomy even exists?

Pandora’s name means “the one who bears all gifts” and she was created as a punishment to mankind because they had been given fire by Prometheus, the Titan who’d stolen it from the gods. The Greek Pantheon is fascinating, not least due to the petty, puerile, punitive, conniving, deceitful, hypocritical way they interact with each other and humans, according to myth. The Pandora story provides a perfect example: Prometheus committed an act of thievery against Mount Olympus. He gave the filched fire to humankind. And the gods punished humankind. Despite the faulty logic involved here, there are two alternate endings to the Pandora story; in one, she lets loose all of the evils to wreak havoc on humanity for all eternity and, horrified at what she’s done, slams the lid back just in time to trap one last item inside: hope. The less cynical version of the tale allows hope to fly from the box, swirling around as the one extant power to counterpose the evils, giving humanity a weapon to combat a defeatist mindset that assumes the inevitability of doomsday and threatens the potential for people to ever be delivered from a life of oppressing suffering.

I’m going to hang these two strips of paper somewhere, probably in my closet, where I can see them frequently but not constantly, as an affirmation of that second version of the myth. We must refuse to believe in a world without the heartbeat of hope. If hope is “the thing with feathers” as Emily Dickinson says, may it not beat its wings to bits inside a box. May it take to the air, the very air we breathe, and make it safe to breathe again.

My eight year-old has a hope for the end of Covid-19. Your words to Zeus’s ears, my child. And may this punishment leave behind all the gifts it brought to bear.

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