In recent weeks, Phillip and I noticed–in ourselves and friends–a kind of bone-weariness and increasingly short fuses in dealing with confinement, with the government’s ineptitude, with community members who will never comply with recommended (or mandated) best practices, and with the stress and fear of enduring walls around our lives, options, and hopes for possibly as long as we live…It’s not that we want to go “back to normal,” but forward would be nice.
Seeing and embracing loved ones would be nice. Getting lost in a crowd of strangers would be nice. A movie, or a restaurant would be nice. Not having to think through every single step required to get some groceries would be nice. It’s felt like an increasingly cruel burden to be constantly vigilant and following all the correct steps prescribed for our safety. But we have no acceptable alternative.
We’re experiencing a combustion of frustration that Must. Be. Tolerated. There is no other rational choice, until the virus and its treatment are managed, until we’d have better than a fighting chance to survive it. Some days, I want to stand in the yard and scream.
So, yes: grief, anger, cranky pants, pissy moods, rolled eyes, deep sighs.
And not exclusively, of course; the weather’s been gorgeous; the gardens are yielding blossoms and food; we, the 4-leggeds, and our loved ones are safe and well, and we’re both blessed with creative outlets.
And yet. The “we can do this” holiday spirit we wore like leis as we entered quarantine wilted, dried, and blew away rather quickly. We became less flexible, and seemed to jettison our joy in the need for the stability of a schedule to reliably follow as our isolation progressed. And that’s understandable, since, with this virus, we were walking into the darkening woods without a map.
Life became scarier and the bad news seemed to increase daily, so we put energy into organizing our days, something we could control. Living with 8 other dependent mammals has always created a fairly predictable schedule, but we’ve been clinging too tenaciously to it out of our own need to keep occupied and avoid staring into the abyss of “what if’s.”
Happily, really, we’re feeling stronger and ready to let go of the rigidity we needed to feel secure on our journey through the woods. And I think both our weariness and crankiness signaled this…We’re rebelling against confinement, yes, but also against the tightness with which we’ve been enduring it. We’re finding our way back to lightness and balance, and discovering ways to tend and feed our joy.
I’ve begun to check in more consciously with my breathing, because I tend to tighten and to hold my breath when I feel stressed. Now, throughout the day, I practice one of the many breathing exercises I’ve collected for years. Funny, how collecting them hasn’t worked nearly as well as doing them every day.
We relax together every afternoon, and we’re giving ourselves more dedicated reading time than just the half hour before bedtime. (I finally finished the almost-800 page The Mirror and the Light, the last in the Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel, and I feel like I’ve disembarked from a time machine. What another stunning stay in Tudor England, floating in Mantel’s glorious language.) We’ve always eaten healthy food, but we’re having more fun planning our meals together. We take naps if and when we want, and watch old movies in the middle of the day if we feel like it. One day, I jumped back in bed for hours and read the day away. And it is pure joy for me to see Phillip relax, which has reminded me that caring for ourselves can also provide peace to those with whom we’re in relationship.
And daily, I’m lugging my cameras along on a walk. This morning, I even went on an unexpected adventure. I strolled down to the bridge to visit my heron buddy, then returned and followed the trail from our yard towards the neighbor’s woods. For 25 years, this primitive trail has run along our properties, beside the river, and then branches into another trail down to the riverbank, where I thought I might get a better shot of the heron.
But the pandemic has kept both us and our neighbor from maintaining our rudimentary paths, and I rather quickly found myself struggling with fallen limbs, colonies of jewelweed rising over my head, and a kabillion burr-sticker-prickles. Damn. I thought I could go towards the neighbor’s and get through the tangle of vegetation; I couldn’t. I turned right, into the woods, thinking the forest floor would be cleaner; it wasn’t. I stood in the woods, surrounded by branches, grasses, vines, and weeds, and I panicked for a moment. I am short and small, and the woods are thick and tall…but they’re not wide, and I knew the way home, so I began to crawl, burrow, jump over branches, slide through openings, and push towards home. I could hear the dogs and Phillip in the dogpark, but I couldn’t see them or figure out quite how to get there. I have a new appreciation for all that Mother Nature can accomplish in 6 months.
As I scrambled through the last barrier to our yard, the dogs sent up a raucous welcome and Phillip, rather surprised at seeing a Green Woman emerge from the woods, stared, transfixed for a moment, and then crossed to the dogpark gate to meet me. As I recounted my adventure, we both started to laugh and couldn’t stop. Of course, he thought it was absolutely necessary to get a photo. I will never get all these burrs out of my clothes, but I had a sweet little adventure. Into the woods and out again.
And it ended in joy.
And here is another gift of joy in my week. The Basque choral composer and director, Javier Busto, created a setting for In the Time of Pandemic and then gathered a virtual choir of artists from all over the world to record it…it’s beautiful. I hope it brings you joy!
The picture book version of And the People Stayed Home is also available, for pre-order, at these locations. I think it is a joyful book, a book of hope, and I believe it can be our story in more ways than we imagine.
Peace to your week!
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