In praise of interdependence

Bright morning. I hear a helicopter overhead. It’s deafening. The house shakes a little. Maybe a train is also going by on the tracks south of us. A house sparrow chirps. The sun reflects off residual rain on dark shed roofs.

Monday was unsettled. I was unsettled and restless. Stormy weather, menstrual cramps, that sense of being about to burst in some way. The things that are missing are lifting their heads, looking at me, calling for my attention. The other day, I tried a loving-kindness meditation, and started crying, imagining going for a walk with my mother and talking to her in person. Today, I tried on a cloth mask my mother had sent me in the mail for grocery shopping, and felt panicky and claustrophobic until I reminded myself that I would be wearing it for other people more than for myself. Until I gave myself permission to hate it but practice wearing it nonetheless. I try to keep some emotional armour on, even soft armour. Not armour, but boundaries against fear and grief. But they leak sometimes. Then the future feels blank, and the past like a dream.

I miss my friends. I miss hugging people outside my immediate family. All those people outside my household who I love. At night I dream about conversations with friends.

On Monday, I contemplated making crackers. It was on my long list of things to do. I looked at the recipe I found, I looked at my kitchen, and all I felt was irritation. Our counter is tiny. The recipe involved rolling out the dough paper thin. And, although I make pizza dough, I roll only a little and then lift and stretch by hand. We don’t have a wooded board to roll on like I grew up with, and anyway, where would we put it? The recipe was simple, but I imagined cleaning everything off the counter first and then scrubbing the counter afterwards. Contemplating it, I felt furious. I didn’t want to make crackers. I wanted to make art. Completely impractical art. I wanted to make collages and intricate drawings of plants. I wanted to write poetry and publish it in obscure literary journals. I wanted to not make crackers and bread, but walk to the store and buy them so that I could spend my time doing something else.

Tuesday evening, we watched Jane Eyre performed at the National Theatre in London, part of their current weekly free online pandemic series. Even on the tiny screen of my husband’s laptop, it blew my mind – the performances, the visuals, the music, the metaphor of it. Theatre is nothing like film. Watching it, I added “see a live play, or several” after “buy lots of crackers at the store” to my mental list of things to do the moment they are possible again.

Remembering the few times I’ve seen live theatre in London, my next dream was of travelling. Even out of my neighbourhood, out of my city. I wouldn’t want to be hunkered down anywhere else right now. I am grateful to be exactly where I am, where every day I can take a different route on my daily bike ride, where I have wide streets to walk on, and tall trees all around my neighbourhood, and neighbours who I can easily talk to over the fence. But on Monday I looked at the counter, cursed the cracker recipe, and longed for more freedom of movement. Yesterday, I watched a play on a tiny screen and dreamed of theatre and of travel.

On the scale of comparative suffering, I’ve lost very little. And as an introvert who loves solitary activities and extended periods of time with my immediate family, in some ways I’m thriving. Most of the work I hope to keep doing in the future is from home. There are days when I question how I will fare with re-entry into a world with wider expectations and commitments, with tighter schedules. There are days when I want to hold my growing children close forever. When I guiltily recognize that there are now many things I worry about less than is my norm. That the strange anticipatory weight of dread I was feeling all through January has melted away. That in some ways it’s easier to channel anxiety into purpose – into shared concern and shared suffering and shared planning – when there is something huge and specific to be anxious about.

But in the moments when I feel stuck and restless, I long for things I’ve never seen before, never done before, experiences that will stretch my assumptions and my expectations. I want to go to the theatre, to a museum, to a library, damn it. I want people to write books, dance, put on plays, to do the things that make their souls sing. I want people to teach, to build, to heal, to do research full-time, to tell stories, to advocate for themselves and others. I want people other than me to interact with my children. I want schools to reopen. I want people to keep having choices. I say this after nine years of homeschooling and close to fifteen years of almost full-time caregiving. It takes a community. All of it does. The truth is, the thought of a world where everyone homesteads to the exclusion of everything else that humans do and create does not fill me with delight. I want a world where people can dedicate their lives to things other than subsistence.

So clearly, as I contemplate what will come out at the end of this all – inasmuch as I have a say in any it – I’m not interested in throwing out all of civilization. And, as I often do, I’m arguing against straw-men in my head, and random opinions from people on the internet. I’m happy enough that there are almost no planes in the sky right now. I’m even happier that there are fewer cars on the road. If I had a pandemic agenda, it would be to close off more streets to cars – as some cities are currently doing – to make more space for pedestrians and cyclists. And then keep it that way.

I’ve added a second small garden bed in my small backyard, and have planted some seeds and ordered more. I’ve mended some clothes, as I often do anyway. And yet, this past month has not convinced me that I want to grow all my own food, sew all my own clothes, go back to homeschooling full-time, and never travel again. If anything, the opposite. If anything, I am amazed and awed and grateful for the ways humans do things together, do things for each other, follow their own skills and passions and curiosity, make space for others to do so. I am amazed and awed and grateful for interdependence. I am wildly grateful that I don’t have do all the things by myself.

I don’t need to farm all my own food, but I can recommit to supporting local farms and local food systems. I can recommit to supporting active transportation and local transportation networks. I can share tools with my neighbours. I can support local businesses. I can support politics that prioritize people over profits. Does that change anything for me personally? In truth, I’ve been on this train for years. Now, seeing the renewed push for well-funded health care infrastructures, seeing direct government support of people who have lost income, seeing advocacy for fair wages for the jobs we now know to be essential, seeing the conversations about what matters most and what kind of future we want, I can say to my kids: “This. This is what we need to keep working for.”

I made the crackers yesterday. The recipe was easy, and there was no mess. I planted some kale in my garden. And I ordered more seeds, but, for better or for worse, most of them were flowers seeds.

Word prompt: stories.

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