Time to write has been hard to come by these past few weeks, which might surprise you, since we began practicing self-quarantine in earnest on March 14. Except: March 14 is when the last of our three twenty-something kids arrived home. They came in from grad school in Boston, work in Austin, and most heart-wrenchingly, a California college senior year cut short with all the subtlety of a guillotine-blade. So although I’ve not left the house in nearly two weeks, except for wooded dog walks, I’ve been readjusting to the….ummmm…fullness of daily life in a house that was a tight fit when they were teens, let alone full-blown adults with Zoom meetings, class assignments, workout schedules (can you say “Peleton”?) and understandable needs for personal space. John, too, is working from home, as am I. Ay-yi-yi. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting us properly provisioned. I’ve found my groove with produce from Misfit Markets (gorgeous, “ugly” fruits and veggies, mostly organic, not uniform enough for Whole Foods, delivered to the house—use my discount code, please: COOKWME-MY3PXG); groceries via Instacart or Amazon fresh; and TP from some hopefully legit EBay entity by the unreassuring name of “AmberCity” medical supply. It hasn’t arrived yet. Fingers crossed.
I’ve tried to keep my meditation and dance practices going, attend to my clients, check in with my parents in New York and Long Island regularly, and not overdo news consumption. I am trying to keep my heart open and my feelings engaged, even though such intensity around me, in my house, in my communities, in my human family, triggers old traumas. My well-developed self-protections—eat, numb, stay uber-productive, hole up, don’t feel—assert themselves here and there. Okay, so I overdid things a bit and bought SIXTY rolls of toilet paper from the aforementioned “AmberCity,” at a cost of nearly two dollars a roll, not including “Amber’s” ( I am imagining here a sun-kissed California blonde, perhaps a realtor or bartender, hawking medical supplies as a side gig) shipping fees. A little bit of panic buying there. I’m human. My neighbors will know who to come to when they run out of loo paper.
Don’t let my breezy tone fool you. I’ve been much preoccupied by general anxiety about the coronapocalypse. And more specifically, by worry for my friends and fellow singers, Emily and Deb, both of them ER docs here in Boston. I feel a great yearning to connect with Divinity, to affirm what this moment might mean for us, the human species. How may we understand the suffering; how tolerate the anxiety and uncertainty; how might I, with such a modest footprint in the world, meet this moment with something approaching generosity and mettle. In these two women, both mothers, one with small children, the other a single mom of a teenager, I see such courage. Not because they sashay guns-blazing, face-masked and loaded for healing, into their respective hospitals, but because they are each terrified of what lies ahead for them and their families, and yet, they still show up. Both were off this week; both return to work tomorrow to face weeks of shifts during the zenith of the corona crisis here in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports dizzying levels of COVID-19 infection among our healthcare community. Yet these women, who daily are rocked by changing federal and local guildelines, a dearth of the equipment that might protect them, and the inability to practice social distancing in their workplace because how can doctors and nurses maintain six feet of personal distance when the typical ER bay is hardly six feet wide; these two breathe deeply in their front yards, then steel themselves to punch in for the rest of us, simpering about our reduced income, or inabililty to find toilet paper.
That’s a rant. Sorry.
Anyway, I did a free write after meditation the other day, and here’s what landed. I share it with you in the hopes that you will say a prayer tonight for doctors and nurses, hospital admins, nursing home aides, all those brave souls across the world who are the soldiers in this war. As if you weren’t already.
For Emily, Deb, Scott and healthcare workers everywhere
Dear God, where are you in this moment?
Evangelicals say: here lies retribution
Mounting up indifferent to the beloved,
Like discarded masks in an ICU hazardous waste bin,
Or corpses of crinkle-eyed Italian grannies who stirred
Steaming marinara pots with a paddle of bosomy love,
Or—looming ahead, perhaps—tattooed American youth
Sun-loving and sleek-bellied, hauled out on Miami Beach
In a wailing wallow of cavalier revolt,
Because you want it; because here is how they say
We are to learn.
This has not been our relationship, yours and mine,
That cruelty is your instrument.
I concede: suffering is one of your best tools;
Reeling us back from depths of self,
Invisible cord spinning around the spool, pulling taut.
The pestilence of coronas upon our heads
Comes not merely because you are pissed,
As if our shallow imagination is all you can muster.
I see it in myself, the heart closed around
My own little cadre of loves, children, home, friends
—mia, mon, mein.
Fierce selfishness overtakes and who could complain
If you said “basta,” felling us with a sweep of your cosmic hand.
We are incorrigibly dust.
And yet I hope you will not, because Love might still
Come creeping shyly, or better yet, striding boldly
Into this moment when we must acknowledge, surely,
That we are all yours, the trees and air, water and sky,
The pulse of life in the woods that sustains
On these shut-in days—
They are yours and I am yours and we are in it together.
And I kiss the air with gratitude for the sun
As the pine needles crunch beneath my feet.
I wish I had the same compassionate heart for
Humans as for these trees.
We can be jerks.
But, oh, the beauty of our spirits and how you shine through us
Like fingers of light through stained glass
Our own particular colors swirling with you.
And that’s how life makes someone like Emily,
Who will leave her two small children at home
And go to a workplace she fears may be the death of her—
Literally—because she took an oath.
Because she is honorable and strong and kind.
Because she doesn’t know where that strength comes from,
Only that even though she aches to strip off her scrubs
Leaving them heaped on the floor of the hospital
Parking garage, to step naked into a life that is clean and free,
She cannot, because you make her who she is.
We are you.
I don’t know quite what this experience will call up in me,
Only that you make me what I am.
And love me as I am.
And for today, that will have to do.
Wonder Woman face masks sewn by Lucy Kania