Each day we walk in various configurations, me giving my sons dire warnings to stay more than six feet away from all other humans. I cycle in the mornings to get my heart pounding, grateful for fewer cars on the roads, grateful that the long-encoded solution of moving fast in the face of anxiety is still available to me.
At our grocery store, the well-spaced line outdoors stretches down the block – memories of a childhood in Poland in the 1970s, but here, there is way more food on the shelves. I want to yell this to everyone who complains about the few shortages. I also want to yell at the oblivious people who stand texting in the middle of the narrow sidewalk, at the young man who walks straight towards me and my older son – who I need to summon to help with the carrying – as we lug what we hope is two weeks of groceries home on foot, forcing us out onto the road. But I don’t. These are exceptions. The rest of us do the keep-away dance as if we’ve done it all our lives, but now there are smiles and nods in passing that would have been rare before.
There are should-have-knows: why are our wills still unwitnessed and unsigned? How can we get anyone to witness them now? Why haven’t we yet renovated our backyard shed into an office where one of us could work? But now we are learning to move from room to room in the house, taking turns at privacy. Two hours writing alone in a room with the door closed does wonders for my focus and my mood. Why did we remove our lilac bush to my parents’ garden so far in advance of our long-anticipated backyard renovation? I imagine the lost consolation of sitting on the back steps this spring watching the blooms open, taking in the sweet scent.
There is also unexpected thanks. For our small and open backyard with its inadequate and ugly fences, where we can still easily chat with neighbours one and even two houses over, in exactly the same way we have done for years. Gratitude for the four of us being so used to each other’s company after years of homeschooling. Gratitude for the habits I’ve built up over the past few years of regular at-home yoga and meditation, and for the introversion I only recently learned to celebrate and cherish which makes me not particularly crave more company than I have. Gratitude for work that can be done from home. Gratitude too for new windows that finally open fully after fifteen years of poor airflow, which I keep flinging wide no matter what the weather, feeling immediately happier and more hopeful.
My mother has become obsessed with masks. She sent me a pattern in the mail, which I haven’t yet used. In response to my silence, she has written that she is sending me one of her homemade masks, small and light enough to slide into a letter-sized envelope. I know she’s right, but I am putting off the inevitable. I can’t imagine how I will keep myself from touching the mask, how I will figure out how to breathe through the fabric. When I go out, I tie my now too-long hair back into a bun, so that it doesn’t get in my eyes and mouth, so that I am not tempted to fiddle with anything on my face. When my eyes water cycling into the wind, I restrain myself from wiping the tears away. I wash my hands dozens of times each day. Somehow there is lots more laundry than before.
I am reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, and note every time pestilence or infection is mentioned, every time the wealthy avoid crowds to avoid contagion, every sudden and brutal or long and lingering death. I have become fascinated with plagues past, with the human struggle with microbes, with how much of a risk and challenge life has always been, with how little we are now prepared to acknowledge this. What might at first have made me anxious – investigating the devastating pandemics of the past – now helps me shift my perspective to a wider view. I am amazed at human ingenuity and resilience, at how quickly people move from panic to mobilization.
I pivot from fear to a measure of normalcy, with occasional sidelines into grief. Grief mostly at what my kids are missing, all the interactions and relationships they thrive in. And a little for the people dear to me who I may not see for a long time. But I think about my parents being separated for six months when my father came to Canada ahead of the rest of us. I think about the decades when my parents could only communicate with their own parents by overseas mail, with rare visits. I think about my grandmother’s family disappearing during the war, when she was only a teen, about the years she waited before she saw them again. I think about all the people who are displaced, separated from family, without a home, crowded into refugee camps, bearing the burden of all the world’s many other infectious diseases, well-acquainted with mortality. I think about all of the people whose lives have frantically sped up as the rest of us retreat into our homes.
As for me, right now I am okay. Everyone I love is still okay. In the day-to-day, my life is not that different than it was. I have a home and food, clean running water, my husband and children with me. I watch every small sign of spring as it arrives, breathe in the air from my wide-open windows. I am adjusting to this this new normal, finding room in it for creativity, capability, joy. As long as I don’t think too much about what could have been instead. As long as I don’t think too much about the future. As long as I stay right here, right now.
Still writing with my email group to writing prompts, as we’ve done on and off for several years, sometimes daily, usually however often we can manage. Once again it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Perhaps I decided at some point that blogs were dead. But this feels like a time for recording. And perhaps a time for resurrection. Word prompts: pivot/lilac/mirror.