The pandemic recalls the sting of several books I was required to read to my children at bedtime. One of these books was Where’s Waldo. Where’s Waldo was the opposite of a go-to-sleep-book. It had the effect of giving the children a thermos of black coffee. Once the loathsome question was asked “Where’s Waldo?”, you were stuck staring at the same page for minutes, hours, days, who can remember – trying to find the elusive nobody in a sea of different but still inconsequential nobodies.
I think Where’s Waldo is the Rubicon of bedtime stories. It is the great divide. Before Waldo, all of the books I read to my children emphasized uniqueness: Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, Horton Hatches the Egg. The theme is the preciousness of the individual. Waldo is different. The singular character has no important qualities. He is not kind, or loved, or smart. He is only a pair of glasses and a toboggin cap.
That may be harsh. Waldo had a nice smile. I have a sort of affection for him – especially when my kids screamed with joy in finding him. The larger point is – after Waldo there was no going back. Goodnight Moon no longer brought the sweet peace of sleep, just impatient page-turning.
I recently took a walk around the neighborhood pushing my four-month old granddaughter in her stroller. The lessons of Where’s Waldo came back on me with a vengeance. It seemed like everyone at our park was wearing a pandemic mask. Some black, some striped, some with a cartoon mouths printed on the fabric. The sea of color and patterns created an awful sameness. A sea of anonymity.
This has been one of the worst aspects of the era of The Virus. It has taken away the simplest expression of ourselves – our face in the mirror. Where’s Waldo was warning us of this danger. The excitement my children had in studying every blasted page for hours was not a curse, it was the book’s gift. The fight of our lives isn’t against a disease, it is to remember the holiness of the individual.