I’m writing this 64 days after the world shifted here. I’m thinking of all the things that usually happen in a span of 64 days and the ways those things haven’t happened. Just an expanse of days behind me and in front of me that look mostly the same.
The weather in Georgia is shifting from spring to summer. Last week we had chilly temperatures overnight, but this week we are looking at highs in the 80s. Most of spring passed in this place, and now none of the usual summer things are happening. We aren’t celebrating with cheers and screams for the last day of school. We aren’t crowding in with neighbors at the pool. Norah’s birthday is on Monday, and I bought candles and made a cake, but there won’t be the usual party. No end of the year recitals or last day hugs with my own students. It still feels so strange. Not just the loss of the events themselves, but what they do for us. I think we use these occasions to mark time. Like that fairy tale of the girl in the woods dropping breadcrumbs to find her way home, it is all gobbled up by this pandemic, and it’s hard to see a way out.
I’m writing tonight mostly so that I can look back and say yes, that thing happened, that expanse of time felt like it would go on and on and yet we made it to the other side eventually.
I spent the first weeks shocked and terrified and refusing to go anywhere at all, relying on click list grocery pick up. Now I brave the store with a mask, and the kids ride bikes with their neighborhood friends. I am loosening up in some things, and tightening my grip in others. My only mantra was survival the first few weeks. Work as best I could at home, keep kids on track, sanitize and clean, and feel no guilt when only these things were accomplished.
But I feel a shift this week, both a recognition and a stubborn insistence. So many of the details of my life these past few months were sucked up by illness (Jude’s) and then by fear of illness (the whole world’s). And now I feel the need to shake off this stagnation and resistance and lean into the flow of whatever this is.
I pulled out my 2020 journal this morning, and I read my words for the year – Allow, Soften, Create. I couldn’t settle on only one this year, and I went for those three in efforts to find that nameless thing that exists between them. That greater yin, that feeling of receiving whatever comes to me and then turning it into something else as an act of creation. When I sketched those words in January in my journal, I did not expect the challenge that was coming to my life or the global pandemic that was coming after that. But what if even in this place I can allow and soften and create whatever is meant to be?
I’ve been thinking of that Rilke poem lately. The one where he tells us to go to the limits of your longing and to let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. I think it has been hard for me to even discern what my longing is, much less follow it to its limits. Survival mode doesn’t leave room for any longing except security. But now, on day 64, I find myself maybe revisiting some of those longings that are beneath the surface of the will to survive.
Things that are keeping me sane: I just finished Untamed, and I have Ocean Vuong’s novel on my night stand lined up next. This podcast with him was like taking a deep breath and a long exhale. I’m addicted to Taryn Toomey’s The Class which is some weird hybrid of pilates, dance, and Osho meditation. I have binged all four seasons of Poldark available on Amazon, and I am tempted to rewatch them already. The new Secret Sisters album and today’s Jason Isbell release. Banana pudding dropped on my doorstep from my neighbor and my freshly baked baguettes I delivered to her. Zoom calls with friends and monthly sharing with my writing group. I know I am not the first one to say this, but I hope when all is said and done that we remember the ways that art kept us sane and grounded and hopeful in this season.
On that note, I ran across this poem from the new Sugar Calling podcast, and I wanted to close by sharing it here. He says what I want to say in 14 beautiful lines. There is beauty in this mess, even here.
“When” by John O’Donnell
And when this ends we will emerge, shyly
and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace
loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those
it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for
laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in
to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different,
although a time will come when we’ll forget
the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh
of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues;
a time when we may even miss the old-world
arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps,
the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open
all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices
reaching out, holding each other till this passes.