And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.
~ William Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4; Scene 15
Last week, after more than a month of quarantine, I didn’t know if the viral curve had flattened as hoped, but my mood and affect certainly required more effort to animate from completely flat to something more rounded.
Variety–in meals, activities, location, and expectations–seemed nonexistent. It was depressing to realize there’s no horizon we look to where goals, travels, or visits from friends await our plans to draw nearer. The calendar is bare. Appointments and dates we’d looked forward to are crossed out or deleted, except for birthdays, when we send electronic cards.
It’s too soon to turn soil and spend days in the gardens. Bird nests are everywhere established and tended, so there are signs of hope and renewal, but last week they felt outside of me, happily progressing without my participation.
I generally wake up early and happy, but there were mornings the oppression pressed in before I got out of bed; the suffering and anger in the world and the unanswered questions that are corralling all of our lives into small, contained spaces and weighting them with too much that is unknown, seemed beyond my powers of adaptation and adjustment.
I thought of Cleopatra’s lines, quoted above. “And there is nothing left remarkable/Beneath the visiting moon.” Looking ahead, I saw only blank pages, dull routines, nothing at all. My hope tank was closing in on empty.
There are books to read, and art to make, and comforting movies to watch; there are video calls and long e-mails; there are ways to connect and to feed our spirits, but to say we don’t feel stress, grief, anxiety, or fear is to deny the reality of the pandemic’s toll and unfair to the feelings we feel. Several friends I’ve spoken to recently have listed all their blessings and acknowledged them gratefully, and then guiltily, apologetically, said they “shouldn’t” also have crying jags, blue days, and sleep disturbances. Compared to other people’s experiences of the pandemic, they shouldn’t struggle with their own.
What we don’t need to do is “should” on ourselves. We’re all where we are, and wherever that is, we can’t escape the challenges and stresses we have to face when life shifts this dramatically, everywhere, all at once. It’s an important part of our rebalancing and continual healing to allow our sadness and fear their space and their time on the stage.
But I was getting lost in my low place, and searching for signposts that would point me back to joy wasn’t yielding results. I tried to stay awake, to keep the eyes of my heart open, but…nada.
One day, I exited the shower, donned my robe and actually wondered if I should stay in it all day. Why the heck not? Who would care? Deadly words, I know; we should always care while we’re living the gift of our lives. But that’s the point. What was beginning to feel like endless nothing was threatening my desire (and my responsibility) to care.
So, imagine my surprise when I entered the bedroom and met this visitor, face-to-face:
She was not pecking her way through the yard below, but stunningly perched on the second floor deck railing, peering into the bedroom window where she remained, confidently preening and posing for her close-ups for almost half an hour before she hopped down and flew away. What a perfectly strange, funny, and intimate experience, as though designed just for me (it was, I know), to call me back to life.
The next morning, feeling more content, I sat at my desk to write. Phillip had been working in his woodshop all week, creating something beautiful from scraps of wood. Despite quarantine, people continue to contact him about making this or that, and creating these items allows him hours of occupation and joy, for which I am grateful. At any rate, oblivious to everything around me as I am when I’m writing, I paused to make a cup of tea. I entered the kitchen and stopped in my tracks when I saw a new worktable, with shelves for cookbooks and topped with an inlaid piece of marble that I’ve used for pastry and candy for 40 years. Phillip had found some gorgeous quarter-sawn oak, created and put the table in place, placed a new raw-edged walnut cutting board on top, and stocked it with our cookbooks and rolling pins without my hearing or knowing a thing.
Purely gift, the turkey hen lifted me out of my tightened circle of self-concern and brought my attention back to the ever-changing world around me. She renewed my hope; her time with me made me forget everything else but the delight the world offers, if we keep looking. If we care.
Purely gift, Phillip created a beautiful and useful piece for our home–a treasure, to me–out of scraps and in the midst of dark days of confinement. This act of creativity and love renewed my hope. Kindness matters. Using our gifts for others matters. We’re here to call others back to life through our gifts. If we care.
These surprises taught me lessons I’ve learned, and forgotten, and have learned yet again, dim student that I can be: When we use our gifts, no matter their size or level of artistry, for others’ joy, healing, and delight, we are saying yes to our part of the Great Love that called us into being and asks only this of us: to love back, to create, to make joy and be gift regardless of anything else the world throws at us.
Love is eternal; pandemics are not. Peace is our home; sorrow and grief are spaces we must tend, but peace is where we all deserve to live. And, when the dark days overwhelm us–and they can–the path back to peace is to notice and engage with the ways our gifts can serve others and the world.
And to see, gratefully, how others are gifting us, always.
Gift is what keeps the world and our lives remarkable.
Look for it; see it; be it.