Something has shifted. The earth has struck back. Exacting breathlessness, it has asserted its demand to breathe. From animal to human the virus jumps, as if to demonstrate the indivisibility of life and death on a small planet. The technology perfected for the rich to globalize their advantages has also created the perfect mechanism for globalizing the panic that sends portfolios into a free fall. Do things differently at the other end of this scourge, some mystic voice murmurs, do them more equitably, more ecologically, with greater respect for the environment, or you will be smitten again. Next time the internet will collapse. The passage from real world to virtual world to no world will then be complete. It is not easy to resist such thoughts, and perhaps they should not be resisted, for that would be to learn nothing.Roger Cohen, A Silent Spring (New York Times)
Day 19: What have I learned?
I can live in the now.
So, perhaps we have lost anticipation in this pandemic. Perhaps we have lost the everyday juice we drink to map out wants and desires? I’m ready, aren’t I?
Prior to any lockdowns, visiting my mother in longterm care in the past few months had given me some facility in grasping the moment at hand. There is nothing else there on offer. There is no tomorrow with dementia. There is only now. Mom and I share a peanut butter cup I scooped up at the volunteer-run tuck shop downstairs, and together watch an old black and white film. We agree there are few better combos than peanut butter and chocolate. I stroke her hair—still fine, now bone-straight grey— tucked back in a borrowed hairband instead of her signature blonde backcomb. She responds well to this touch, beams a silent thank-you to me. In the end, she doesn’t speak much. Smiles. Listens. Responds with one or two-word answers. Hugging is its own language; indeed my first language, my most fluent language even as I have learned over time to converse with those with lukewarm settings who do not share my mother tongue.
When the attendants come to manoeuver her walker to dinner, I help her to stand, and then wrap my arms around her. It is all. It has to be enough.
If there are no longer anticipatory twinges, I can cope. With Mom, there are no days of the week either. There is just now. I’m used to this. I am ready.
Except now I cannot hold her.
All human touch is now governed (by necessity) by pandemic rules. Like all of us, Mom and all her peers in long term care can no longer have visitors. The exhausted workers there have unimaginable limits on their time but have worked out a schedule where they will assist residents to come to the window. All we have is a ten-minute window to wave at Mom. Is this part of ambiguous loss? We have lost so much already.
Yes, I can walk with a friend. Our voices carry across the mandatory divides. Yes, I can organize neighbourhood driveway hangouts. We smile and offer solace— and try to discern if any neighbour needs help with anything—and while it is all a strange and new kind of togetherness, we find our usual jocularity. Yes, I can accept a series of invitations to see faces in boxes on my screen for work, for fitness, for family meetings. I started up a new Facebook group: Bakers in a Dangerous Time, and other new creative collaborations with neighbours and friends because Let’s Make Up a Story is my password and it’s better than the one we’re living with now.
I am grumpy about technology hugs even as I adapt as human beings have done since we stood up. Who says I want to become facile at Zoom? I am not ready.
Being inside my home for hours and hours doesn’t scare me.
Extroverts can’t work alone. Really? Reductive boxes are lazy. I’ve been working alone for years since I left the newsroom. It’s me, my coffee cup, and the draft on the page. This is what writers do, give or take the odd collaborative lifeline. Putting up with my angsty writing gaps is Lucy’s job.
Housekeeping does not daunt me either. Once I ran a household and grew some kids up and out. Now I am tucking bedsheet corners in, with my guy who, in a previous life, was surely a royal housekeeper, if sarongs were allowed as a uniform. Or a jester. We are rich in quips, if nothing else, and cookbooks I refused to throw out in House Purges 1 through 11. His setting is always set to Hug. High up there, alongside his laundry pile of neatly folded clothes, is a deep sense of reward in the work we’ve put into this, this life now threatened by an invisible enemy. This is the payoff. We get to stick this out together and he is learning (finally) what I do all day, just as I am listening to his frequent work calls now on our walks together. Somedays, we are short with one another, and long on many others. We are sad and then we laugh. We know how to do this. There is never a bad time to keep learning.
A year ago, it was how to bake a croissant. Will we ever leave the house again? Check back when Spring shows up. The real Spring. Canadians know the difference.
We are ready.
Our kids are away from us, one in another city, and the other, in another continent. All of our plans to be together are no longer possible in the near future, in the imminent future, in the…what is the future?
I miss my dad even as I know he would have suffered surely in this terrible chaos. I miss my lucid mom who would have laughed along with me at the two red cardinals dancing around my yard. I miss my father-in-law who never ran out of soap. Our days fold into one another and some days are this: Husband and Wife sitting on the couch and saying: we miss our people. Every day. Sadness is a new houseguest… and now this? Dreams now are wild and fanciful and I have lost sense of weekdays and weekends…they have just slipped into a March puddle. Stars on my calendar to mark spectacular achievements have been removed. My watch broke. The little latch fell off although it is still running. I looked at the thing and screamed: you motherfucker, that is a poor joke.
I’m not ready. We are not ready.
The playgrounds and dog parks have yellow tape around them. Every day, small deaths.
I’m not ready.
It’s easy to reject some mindsets: my stress is the only stress. I have it worse than you.
Instead, it’s an easy yes to any and all of the initiatives to form communities of compassion (my film nerd heart bleeds for artists); to applaud the heroic essential workers who are keeping us alive, keeping us fed, keeping us in our cocoons of civility. I marvel at the daily communication briefs delivered by government officials with a calm I can barely muster in my relative safety. In a previous chapter in a television newsroom, I learned how fast news cycles work. This Big Germ now is supersonic speed and yet, there they are, doing their jobs with persistent professionalism. Don’t listen to the news, say, well-meaning friends. Who needs it? I’ve given up on it. It’s all bad news. I don’t listen to it, I can find it all on Twitter, on SNL, on Colbert, by myself. Really? Journalism, like healthcare, has never been more crucial. Learn which ones to trust and never stop following their reasoned threads, even if it’s in smaller, tolerable doses.
While working as a producer in that newsroom, I was a longtime member of the company’s pay equity committee where we examined each sector of our operation and how responsibility and stress were measured. That experience has never left me and afforded me precious insight into systems I never see from the quiet of my writing perch. There, mostly invisible from all the clamor, I try to make sense of it all, occasionally pacing, always pondering.
Like you, Anxiety sits at our breakfast table. Will our daughters be okay? Will they get sick? Parenting adult children is another setting on the dial.
Can we pay our bills? The echo rings around the world.
All of us are floating in the unknown. Some of us are going to fall off the edge and others will get a hand up. There are millions and millions of stories and most of them are worse than yours. We are all someone.
That I know this means I’m ready.
That I love makes me unready.
You, dear readers, are more important than ever. I feel you somewhere out there. Drop me a line.