John Whelan: Here Comes The Sun

“Little darling, I feel the ice is finally melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right” 

During the 10-plus years I hosted an oldies rock and roll radio program on WOMR-FM, I never played a Beatles song. My friends know that somehow the great music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney never excited me. It sounds incongruous that a rock and roller like me never favored The Beatles. I did, however, love a number of songs written by Beatle George Harrison. My all-time favorite is “Something,” and right behind it is “Here Comes the Sun.” I was among the very fortunate to see the great Richie Havens perform “Here Comes the Sun” at the Provincetown Town Hall years ago. I hope some of you were there.

“Here Comes the Sun” is a song about the present and the future. George Harrison wrote it at a very dark time in his life. He had gone through a very stressful period and went to his friend Eric Clapton’s house for peace and quiet. Harrison recounted that he walked around Clapton’s gardens with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote the song.

In my mind, we have all gone through a very stressful time and we certainly could use not a little but a lot of sun. The 12 months from mid-February 2020 to today have been the most upsetting in my memory. I think back to February 2020 when we were first hearing about the coronavirus. At first, a virus from China seemed so remote, and we the people of the United States enjoyed the best healthcare and had the best hospitals and incredible medical research. Certainly, we had the knowledge and the resources to contain this virus. My first thought was that things might return to normal by summer, and if not then, by early fall. We all know now that, unfortunately, our federal government did not gauge the seriousness of the virus properly and that there were many missteps along the way. Somehow, the wearing of protective masks became politicized. Medical experts recognize today that masks are a major deterrent to the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are still areas of our country where, for a number of irrational reasons, some people continue to shun the wearing of masks. It would seem that we could expect the pandemic to be prolonged in those areas.

March and April brought the terrible shutdown of so many businesses and schools. Life, as we had known it, was temporarily suspended. The unknown nature of the virus made it more difficult to cope and the economic consequences were just becoming a dire reality. Jobs were lost and local businesses struggled to survive. The CARES Act delivered some, but not enough relief and people started to die. At first, it was a trickle of deaths and then a river as the virus continued to spread.

Summer came to Chatham, and being outside with bright days seemed to relieve some of the gloom, but not all. The Eldredge Public Library closed. The Orpheum Theater closed. The Cape Cod Baseball League canceled its season. Band concerts at Kate Gould Park were canceled as was the Fourth of July parade. Restaurants were closed to inside dining. Local inns and motels were closed. Retail stores were limited to a very few customers allowed inside. Weddings were postponed and parties canceled. Museums had to close. The annual Chatham Town Meeting was postponed and we were advised to socially distance at all times. Families could not get together the way we always had. I don’t have to recount more because you all lived through it.

Fall came and the days got colder and daylight shorter. Our restaurants adapted by offering more takeout. Outside dining, which had been the lifeline for some restaurants, was no longer possible. Coronavirus cases increased dramatically and the number of deaths soared. Chatham and Cape Cod, with its generally older demographic, was particularly vulnerable. To date, according to Johns Hopkins University, some 471,000 Americans have died and the terrible toll is advancing rapidly to half a million and beyond. All in all, very depressing.

But as in George Harrison’s song, the ice is finally melting. The FDA has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The rate of inoculations, which were originally plagued by poor planning and logistics, has increased almost geometrically. The rush for an appointment for vaccination caused unbelievable anxiety. Some of the problem is being solved by additional supply, and some by more awareness of the procedure for getting that appointment. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which may have been approved by the time you read this article, promises millions of doses almost immediately. These vaccines have been tested thoroughly and are very effective. I was personally surprised to learn that these vaccines are more effective than the flu and pneumonia vaccines currently in use. The FDA will still have to deal with anti-vaxers and their propensity to spread unscientific misinformation through social media, but gradually the US will move towards what is called “herd immunity” and the pandemic will ease. The next federal relief package will help many of the most needy.

And what of Chatham? I am clearly “a cockeyed optimist,” as Oscar Hammerstein might say, and I foresee a long process where the things we love come back to us little by little. Restaurants will reopen with inside dining. We will be able to go to the library and town hall. Families will be able to enjoy an Angler’s game at Veteran’s Field. People will go to the Orpheum for a movie. Chatham’s wonderful museums will reopen. Main Street will be packed and parking will become an issue again. I hope I never hear anyone complain. Weddings and parties will be back. Maybe even more so, due to the time out. Main Street stores will enjoy a strong rebound and, best of all, jobs will recover. It could all take longer than we might hope, but I believe it will all happen.

The many missteps will fade in importance, and as George Harrison said so prophetically, “Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.”