One morning this week, I was reading to Phillip, and we came across a phrase describing a visit among friends lasting “no little time.” Phillip wondered at the choice of words; why not use a more straightforward expression? I thought perhaps “no little time” was more poetic than, “They remained together a long time.”
The week went on and the words traveled with me.
As our time in confinement has lengthened, the trail beside our home has become overcrowded with bicyclists, runners, walkers, people pulling babies behind their bikes in wagons, dog-walkers, throngs gathered on the bridge, passing, coming, and going. The weather has been enticing, and I understand spring’s power for beckoning families weary of being indoors to exercise and relax on the trail. It has felt as though no little time has passed since we were told to care for ourselves and others by staying home. Long days of anxiety, of flattened, twisted energy, and of the need for sunlight and fresh air require release.
The crowding on the trail has been especially heavy during the past two weekends. And none who passed us as we gardened, sat on the deck, walked our own dogs up and down our driveway, or glanced from the window, wore a mask or kept a safe distance from the people around them. The trail, an old railroad track, is maybe 10 ft. wide and bordered by ditches, so there’s nowhere to escape when others are coming at you; certainly, a 6-ft. barrier is impossible to maintain.
I understand and I do not understand. People need a place outside to move and revel in the scents and views of spring, but during the flourishing of an invasive, infectious virus, why would you so cavalierly choose to put your health and that of anyone else at risk? Why a narrow trail rather than open parkland? Why behave as though the virus is gone simply because you want it to be? We know, empirically, it’s here for no little time.
At any rate, our own use of the trail ended several weeks ago, and we struggled with that decision and the need to give 5 dogs their daily exercise, looping the yard over and over, encouraging the completion of necessary tasks the dogs are unaccustomed to performing off-trail (i.e., begging them to just poop, already). We decided against trips to the county dogpark months ago; now the trail was also off-limits, and we could be staying in place for another year, at least. We had never added a fence to our yard because of the gardens and orchard we established before we had 5 dogs, and because we enjoyed daily walks on the trail, which was often deserted and offered changing views.
We called the local fencing company and asked for an estimate to fence in about a quarter-acre. Nothing fancy, a black chain-link fence with gates. Something that would fade into the scenery. Maybe. An employee came to our home. He wore no mask, but we had ours on, and backed up about 15 feet from him while he toured and measured and then announced an estimate that caused us to politely thank him for his time, wish him well, and create another plan. Apparently, the fence we wanted approximated the cost of a new home. And garage. And car.
Phillip went online and ordered some plain field fencing, posts, stakes, wood for gates, and bags of cement. He could pre-pay, set up a time for picking it up, and not have to come into contact with anyone.
He worked hard, for no little time, over the past two weeks, fencing off an acre and creating a little dogpark for 5 happy pups. I worry about birds of prey harming my smaller dogs, so we stay out with them during these new at-home playtimes, a daily adventure we couldn’t have foreseen a year ago.
It’s not the fence I would have liked or where I wanted it, but the dogs don’t care and–of course–no one is visiting anytime soon, so it’ll do. The pups love their new park, we’re all safely off the trail and far from the viruses being exchanged along it.
So, we garden, weed, feed the birds, help them nest, watch the eggs hatch and, within weeks, see the babies fledge. We watch our cats rest, our dogs play, our lives pass. We engage with each other and our 4-leggeds and we allow ourselves time alone. We hold each other when we’re overwhelmed and we rest when we need to, if we can. In many ways, on most days, it feels like the retirement we imagined.
But it’s not. And won’t be, possibly ever, which is challenging to consider. We’re fenced-in for no little time.
Others are experiencing this time completely differently, many desperately, and it has brought home again how useless and destructive it is to judge…We all got where we are through a million choices, some made before we were born, some made without our participation, or in partnerships that ended after the choices were made; often, events out of human control intervened and altered life courses. I’m grateful for our blessed little life, and I’m sad for the people who are struggling economically and emotionally. I’m worried about those who are choosing to socialize on the trail and now, in taverns, but I’m trying hard not to judge what I perceive as their errors in logic and lack of foresight. I’m hurt that the risks presented to older people like us, and with health and autoimmune issues like mine, aren’t considered as people now flock to stores, public spaces, and doctors’ offices. I’m more concerned than ever about my friends working in area hospitals.
But it does no good on earth to harbor bitterness or feed divisiveness. This is humanity, and a glance at history should corroborate the ranges of behavior predictable by now. It’s enough to be grateful for everything that’s brought me here to Full Moon Cottage, Phillip, the 4-leggeds, my writing, my books, gardens, and other diversions. It is no little time of contentment. Mostly.
Contrary to what I’ve always thought (apparently without question), authentic kindness, hope, and love are a struggle to gestate and support; they are damn hard to nurture, lift, sustain, and carry from one moment to the next, when you really need them in your life. I’m seeing this so much more clearly during the pandemic, as all the antithetical impulses: greed, fear, anger, and hatred rush to their rising in response to the anxiety.
Our power to love is invited to grow while we live isolated, in confinement, unemployed by any outside distraction. I feel compelled to meet the worry and anger and befriend them, to extend kindness to myself and my dear one, when a tossed laundry basket or salty curse would be more satisfying.
So often these days, every living thing seems overwhelmingly tender and fragile to me. I can feel angry at the stupidity of those joining crowds and rejecting personal and community protection, but more often, I cry that people are so anxious they’re willing to deny reality. I hear them laughing together on the trail and wonder if they’re robbing themselves of laughing together in a few weeks, or months. Next summer. Ever.
We are spiritual creatures inhabiting these bodies, having, for a time, a physical experience, as Pierre Teilhard said. We are of the eternal, but here and confined, fenced-in, for a little time, if only to realize no time is little at all; every moment is precious. However it comes wrapped, it’s gift, and needs to be filled with as much kindness, hope, and love as we can cram into it.