COVID-19, Friends, Nature

Hunkering down

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine for the plague.” This has been circulating around social media the past couple of days. “Yay for Shakespeare,” I say but my brain is so full of viral thoughts there’s room for little else, especially writing. 

My house is a mess. Cleaning is on the list for tomorrow along with writing up notes about cat care in case of emergency and reviewing my will. Morbid but necessary items that will help me sleep at night. 

Sun shines, rain blows through, more sun. The hellebores are blooming, vinca, lungwort. Crocuses have gone past. Daffodils are up and will bloom soon. Trees, water, dirt, insects, birds, critters. “We have a possum in our garage,” a neighbor says. Life in its rhythms. The cat loves the longer days, the sun, my being home to let him out. I stroll the yard and he runs to me, twines around my legs, meows, trots behind me as I keep moving.

I’m in contact with friends more than usual, even though we meet via phone calls and emails rather than face to face. Without the usual distractions life simplifies—home, friends and loved ones, time in the garden, walks through the woods. 

Will I be able to center into this time? Breathe, ease the fretting, slow down, row gently through the days?

This isn’t all that different than my usual life, I say. I often have strings of days with no engagements in the calendar. I’ve set things up that way deliberately to give me time for reflecting and writing. But… But…There’s always an alternative to solitude–a coffee shop to sit in, lunch with a friend, a library or bookstore to browse, a movie to go to.

I focus on finding my way through the day to day—how to shape the hours, carve a pattern in the day. I poll my friends: What are you doing today? I make yogurt, think about baking bread. I wonder where I put my spare fabric that I could use to patch a favorite pair of jeans.

But mortality is knocking on my door more urgently than ever. Older adults are more likely to die from this virus than younger ones–I hear this over and over. What does this mean for me? For my friends and family? The world feels precious. My daily walks yield small treasures–tree bark like an elephant’s skin, feathery bright green new growth, water rushing over rocks after a morning of rain, late afternoon sun on the river.  

An email arrives from my cousin in San Francisco. They’re staying home, life is quiet, they’re watching the birds at the feeder, planting their gardens, writing letters to get out the vote. Another email from friends in England. I make a note to contact my friends in Chicago. Webs of connection. All of us figuring out how to move through these days.

I try to relish the simplicity, cherish the strong connections, revel in the moments of breathing and moving, feeling the chilly air on my face, the soreness in my hip that says I’m alive and kicking, savoring the soft fur on my cat’s back, his warm body curled close to mine, his head butting my leg as we stand in the middle of the slowly resurrecting gardens. 

Garden, Grief, Meditation, Writing

Remembering

I haven’t posted recently—haven’t spent much time doing any kind of writing. That happens sometimes. I’ve cleaned closets, organized shelves, clipped back dead foliage in the garden, raked up leaves that I left down for winter mulch, read some good books (I enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo), spent more time than I should scrolling through social media, walked in the woods—but the only writing has occurred in my Monday writing group (which is where I am right now). 

I’m not worried—I’ve had these lulls before. To give myself a nudge—a gentle invitation—I enrolled in an online group led by Jena Schwartz titled Dive Into Poetry. Three days a week for the month of March we receive a poem in our inbox. We can simply read and appreciate or we can respond with a poem of our own. 

I wrote a poem this morning about a garden cart that a friend gave me as a housewarming present twenty-five years ago. The cart has trundled across my yard thousands of times since that long ago August day, hauling leaves and grass clippings and potted plants, empty pots that need storing at the end of the season, bags of mulch and topsoil, rakes and hoes, and seedlings in green plastic pots ready to put in the ground. 

The poem was a distilled, focused memory of the gift of the cart, my friend helping me put it together, his death months later, my memories of him when I use the cart. My last lines said:

“I think of him now as I push the cart over a winter rutted lawn.
Not a heavy grief, but a remembrance
a nod to his thumbprint on my day to day.”

I was aware as I wrote about my friend and the cart and the gentle nostalgic memory that the cart evokes that I was not writing about the more poignant, stabbing memories that surface sometimes when I look at the print hanging on my living room wall—red tulips spilling out of their vase—or feel the nubbly texture of the yellow blanket folded on my office daybed, these relicts from my sister’s house, evocations of her and her home, many-roomed memories that swim in front of me of a place I can never return to, a person I can never touch again. 

None of this is surprising—griefs exist in diverse dimensions, deaths leave holes of differing sizes—the death of a friend lands differently than the death of a sister. 

Although I haven’t put words to paper much in recent weeks, I’ve been writing a lot in my head. I wrote an entire poem in my mind yesterday morning as I sat in my meditation group listening to Tara Brach and trying with great difficulty to keep my attention focused on my breath. I’ll remember this poem, I told myself, write it down when I get home. But it’s mostly gone. I got home, stroked the cat, ate lunch, and ventured out to the garden to rake and clip and tidy, the poem forgotten until this morning when I tried to recapture it with no success. Something about being the silence that is listening, being the stillness. 

Being the stillness. Things feel chaotic these days, all the hoopla and angst about the virus that creeps ever nearer, dominates the media, seeps into our thoughts, our conversations. I try to resist the anxiety, stay centered, fight the feeling that I’m swimming through germs every time I go out in the world. I spent a long time at the grocery store on Saturday stocking up on canned goods just in case I need to self isolate at some point and then got home and realized I’d been so focused on that hypothetical crisis that I hadn’t bought items that I’d actually need for the coming week. 

Breathe. Be the stillness. Relish moments like this, sitting in a bright room, surrounded by windows, looking out at sun and blue sky, feeling the sun on my neck, the back of my head, hearing the creak of chairs from the other room, an occasional sigh, knowing that we’re all engaged in creating, putting words out into the world, a community of writers. And being here, now, fingers on keyboard I enter a sort of stillness, a place of calm.