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What Togetherness Day Means To Me

Leah Cypess is the author of several books and numerous short stories. Her next book for young readers, Thornwood, is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of Beauty's forgotten younger sister. It is a 2021 publication of Delacorte Press.
What Togetherness Day Means To Me
Sara Greenberg: 7th Grade
Togetherness Day is important to me because once it's over, it will be a whole year before I have to go through Togetherness Day again.
Just kidding, Mr. Paterson. Not because I don't mean it, but because if I don't get a good grade in your class, my mom won't let me run track this semester.
I love track, even though I didn't think I would. I was forced to choose a sport (just like I'm being forced to write this essay) and all the sports with VR components make my head hurt. Dad says I'm being too sensitive, that if I just got through a season I'd get used to the VR. But whenever he tries to push me, Mom jumps down his throat and says he doesn't know what it's like for me and football isn't what it was when he used to play.
"There's no such thing as team spirit," she says. "They use the phrase, and they think they know what it means, but they don't. It's just a pale, pathetic imitation of what sports used to be. Just like everything else in this life we all live. You think Sara doesn't sense that, deep down?"
Then they both get sad and leave me alone.
I know it seems like I'm getting off topic and not writing about Togetherness Day at all. Just keep reading, please. Trust the author, as you like to say. I know you mean Morrison and Avasthi and authors like that, but I'm the author of this ridiculous essay, so you have to trust me.
I love the track. The way it stretches and curves, the clean white lines, the thud of my feet in the utter silence. The wind in my unmasked face. It's a stroke of luck that I'm good at it. I'm not great, I know that (I would know even if my dad didn't tell me so on a weekly basis), but I'm good enough to get a practice slot on the old school grounds. That's really all I care about.
When I'm running, I can think about difficult things and they don't feel so difficult. Usually I think about what I'm going to focus on in high school, and how to break it to my parents that it's not going to be virology. (I've rehearsed about three million speeches, without yet coming up with one that will work.) But this past week, while I ran, I thought about Togetherness Day.
At first I was just dreading it and trying to figure out ways to get through it, but eventually I started thinking about the future. About how when my generation is the one forcing kids to take sports and grading their English paper and whatever else it is that adults spend their time on, we're going to get rid of Togetherness Day altogether.
Imagine that. No more of that stupid "Forgot How To Feel Lonely" song playing in the background of every conversation. No more assemblies about how amazing things were in the old days, how we kids can't understand what it was like, but don't worry, you're still going to spend a lot of hours explaining it to us. No more drives to raise money for more research and more programs and more ways to "get back what humanity has lost."
We'll keep the concerts, though. I have to admit the Togetherness concert is always awesome. (Well, almost always. Letting the Leptons do the lead song last year was not the best choice. And yeah, that genuinely is off-topic, but it had to be said.) We'll have the concert, but without the endless speeches about how much better things would be if, instead of hearing the music come crisp and clear from my speakers in the comfort of my own room, I had to pack together with thousands of other people (ugh) and try to make out some strands of singing over all the screaming. About how someday, we will be able to do exactly that, because supposedly we're just a few scientific breakthroughs away. And also supposedly, once we can be physically together again, we'll actually want to.
It was a different kind of energy then, you're going to say, like some speaker does at every single Togetherness Day assembly. The vibrancy, the connection, blah blah blah. Like there's some sort of magic that happens when people are physically in the same space.
Why is it that I'm supposed to support every statement I make in this essay, but adults can make that kind of unscientific woo woo claim and we're just supposed to swallow it?
Frankly, the whole thing sounds gross. Most people look ugly and boring without their filters. And you know that Timmy kid, the one who was rescued from one of the unity cults? He told me that when you get close to them without gear, most people smell bad. Is that true, Mr. Paterson? How come no adult ever mentions that, when they go on and on about the good old days?
Bottom line, you're lying to us. And to yourselves. You never wanted to listen to music in a crowd. You just had no other option.
It's not the same on the screen, like the stupid song says. But back then, all you had were screens. I mean, I've used screens, I still think they're better than physical humans, but at least it's believable that you'd feel like you were missing out. You didn't have Conectiv tech, though. We have it a lot better than you guys did. You need to accept that.
Okay, time for my conclusion. I'm almost at a thousand words, and my track slot is in fifteen minutes.
Togetherness Day is an exercise in futility, trying to get us to mourn "what we've all lost," when in fact we haven't lost anything at all. The world is better than it used to be. There are fewer injuries, fewer accidents, less pollution. And we're not missing out. Even if we figured out a way to go back to the way things were, we wouldn't want to.
I can see your face when you read this. The horror. The pity. For sure I'll get called into a special meeting to hear about how different and special and totally not disgusting life used to be.
My mom gives me speeches like that all the time, so don't bother. I could seriously recite them for you. Sometimes it's about one thing, sometimes it's about another, but she always ends with the same line: What makes me sad is not so much what you've lost, but that you don't even know you've lost it.
Your generation is always so sad, all the time, and you don't have to be. That's what I'm trying to explain to you.
I probably won't even hand this in. I'll just write some drivel about how sad life is, how much the pandemics have stolen from us, how I yearn to run surrounded by other grunting human beings who would probably breathe all over me (ew), instead of in complete and beautiful silence. How Togetherness Day is important because it reminds us of how things were, and how important it is that we strive to make them like that again.
Unless I get very brave. Or unless I get involved in v-chatting with my friends and I don't have time before the assignment is due.
Just in case:
Togetherness Day is important to me because it's already a historical relic, just like all the things you adults are going to spend the day being mournful about. All the things you claim you've lost and are trying so hard to regain. We don't need them. We haven't lost anything at all.
Someday pretty soon, Togetherness Day will also be a relic of the past. And I can tell you one thing for sure: Nobody is going to miss it.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 25th, 2021
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