Living in the Age of COVID-19: 4/5/20

 

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White Rainbow Root, 2008, Steve Tobin (Naples Botanical Garden)

I spent the last week thinking about going back to Michigan – and realized that along with analyzing the ton of information from infectious disease and pandemic experts, I also need to think about my thinking.

We had been planning on leaving right after Easter, a week from now, but I kept thinking about all the “what ifs” of traveling 1,340 miles by car while the pandemic seems to be getting worse everywhere from here to there. Will hotels be open along the interstate – we got word that friends of a friend were the only couple in a hotel on the way from Texas to Illinois? Do I want to trust that I won’t get infected by staying in a hotel? Can two mid-seventy bodies sleep at a rest stop well enough to be safe driving for the second (or third) day? What are the chances of getting infected when we used toilet facilities and buy gasoline? If we have a medical emergency or accident will we get treated (and do we want to get treated) in an emergency room that is at capacity with COVID-19 patients? What if we are infected when we leave and one or both of us develop a fever and cough while on the rode? Will we be able to continue to share driving when sick or do we spend a week in a hotel room recovering? What if we wait until the end of April or May – the experts are predicting that many places (including Florida) are going to peak about then? Will we be able to leave later if we don’t leave now?

I horded pieces of information in various sections of my brain and worked to put them in a row of logic so I could end with an equal sign and a conclusive decision. When I reached that point I would tell Jim of my decision and see if he concurred. And then I would listen/read some more and start the process again to make sure there wasn’t a fatal (figuratively and real) flaw in my reasoning. I would talk with Jim some more and we would reach a consensus. And then I would…  As of today we are staying until the end of April and then make a new decision. A few other couples in our complex are also doing something similar.

Parallel to this decision making process is a voice the breaks through saying, “I want to go home.” Sometimes it threatens tears. Most of the time I look around at the blue sky, palm trees rustling in the breeze, orchids blooming in trees at each end of our lanai, hear birds singing and think, “How can life be any better than what I have in this moment?” What will I gain by “going home?”

This is when I realize I need to do some ‘thinking about my thinking.’ Thinking is like any other skill we learn; we need to practice the skill and continually think about how we can improve our performance.

I realized that “I want to go home” really meant I want to go home to a time when everything was normal and the threats to my well-being and life were pretty much understood as a normal part of aging. I want to go home so I we can go to breakfast at the Wooden Spoon, see my kids, grandkids, and that precious great-granddaughter, have friends over for supper, get together with our card club for a pot-luck and card playing, and go to my favorite fabric shop to buy a few pieces for a couple of new projects. When I think about my thinking in this way, I realize that it is impossible to go home. Not in a way that allows me to go back to the way I left home last October or even early January.

Cleaning up the clutter of my thinking has left me with sadness. I miss so much of the life I used to have. But I don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of believing that my life is ruined, that we don’t deserve this, that everything is lost. That is not good thinking, not based on facts. Yes, our life has changed and our world will be different when we reach the other side of this pandemic. I am curious and look forward to seeing who I am and how we live after going through this crisis. It could be a wonderful chance for our young people to take charge and make our world a better place. But I hope they remember to think about their thinking as they work for a better world.

And let’s keep those rainbow roots watered.

Very Cold & Snow

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I woke to bone-chilling cold and a bit of snow on the ground. The sun, before being seen, announced its presence by coloring wisps of pale pink clouds. As the sun continued to rise, the light-floating clouds lost their color against the thin blue of the winter cold sky. The clouds seemed anemic after shedding the weight of the snow they had been carrying.

I sat in my favorite reading chair in my small room listening to the silence. I am familiar with the silence of cold and snow, and this silent cold seeped through the windowpanes to my right, not respecting the boundary between outside and in. The silence of inside was punctuated by the clinks and clunks of the heat ducts as they rested between attempts to push back the cold. I know when it is more-than-cold outside because that cold has more power than any form of heat but the sun. And soon the cold joined forces with a wind that howled and growled around the corner of the house and onto the porch to overpower the promise of sun-warmth. Late morning we ventured out into the battle in an attempt to say we wouldn’t stop our life for nature’s display of brutal strength, but we were humbled.

In the dawning-day hours, though, I enjoyed the silence of the tempered cold as I sat in my chair by the east-facing window. I held my warm mug of chi tea between my hands and against my chest so the warmth seeped into my soul. As I sipped, letting the tingle of spices and softness of cream linger on my tongue, I watched the white light of morning sun, softened through slatted blinds, drift across purple wall and artwork, lamp and bookcase – illuminating memories of a life lived with joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, pain and pleasure, brokenness and redeeming love.

A Sanctuary for the Dead and Living

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…the original Hill section was still lovely, its mature plantings offering visitors shade and cool breezes. The gentle, rolling terrain and meandering gravel pathways felt natural and comfortable, even giving the impression that those resting beneath its picturesque hummocks – some interred before the Revolutionary War – had come there by choice rather than necessity. (Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool, p.4)

Every time I drive into the center of town I go past this cemetery. And every time I drive by I feel a pull to turn in – not that I feel myself being pulled to death. No, I feel the pull to stroll the driving paths, sit in the shade of the very large evergreens, explore the grave markers in this oldest cemetery in our town. I love the rolling hills and how the morning sun shines through the trees to provide selective illuminations. There is a special eerie beauty when the sun shines through the morning mist.

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This mature cemetery seems to provide a place of sanctuary, a nature preserve for both the deceased and the living, much more than the level, perfectly laid out, sunny cemeteries. Our love for those we bury leads us to wanting a pleasant place for their bodies to rest, but logically these sanctuaries are more for us, the living.

We need this refuge as a place to keep our memories. The nature of this special cemetery seems to whisper that this is sacred ground – where we remember and respect those who have lived and died. I don’t need to go to the actual grave of my mother to remember her.

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This simple marker triggers the simple memories of times spent with my mother, sacrifices she made for her children, ways she helped me grow into the woman I am. When I walked past this grave I stopped to reflect and pay homage to all women who labored to give birth and then labored to nurture children to adulthood. And of course all the women who nurtured other women’s children.

When I view these simple markers, the stones and crosses without names, my thoughts are freed to think of the millions of people for whom there is no evidence of who they were within their small sphere of influence. I am reminded that we are not walking alone because we are walking on the path trod by trillions of people, unnamed people in our collective memories. Is there a sense of sanctuary in knowing that we are not alone in our walk through the joys and struggles of life, and our walk towards joining them in death?

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There is a sense of sanctuary for me in knowing, in my awareness and memory, that ‘I am’ because of all those who have struggled before me, all those who have loved with their hearts and hoped in a better future. I feel sorry for those who focus on hate and fear because it is impossible to find the peace of sanctuary within their world.

I have been wanting to do a post using these photographs for a very long time and Ben, at the Daily Post, provided a good prompt: Sanctuary. I had fun writing about how this cemetery has affected me, tying in the photographs and the prompt – and as always my words led me to thoughts that were new and exciting.

Let Her Be

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Grandma said, “Let her be.” I heard this, from the time I was very small, it gave me permission. The messages to be good, to be quiet, to settle down, to stop it, and to not do that were also heard but the most important message was to let her be. This message was directed at parents who were working hard to raise me to be a responsible and good person, and mostly I have been. But I seem to be listening mostly to Grandma these days.

Let her be. What a strong message. Be. Feels as strong as God telling us “I am.” These messages can’t be more concise or clearer. They ring like crystal.

I spent some time reading Freeman Patterson last night, his book Embracing Creation about the art of photography. I am intrigued with his thoughts about how what we choose to photograph can be used to better understand who we are and what we desire from our lives. He writes about those special places that feel like home – not structures but places in the world where we feel ageless. Where we are a child, an adult, and also very old. Places that are timeless.

Docks on small inland lakes have made their way into many of my photographs. This dock was taken yesterday morning, at the boat launch at Portage Lake; Grandma lived on the other side of this small lake. My favorite place to be was lying on my tummy on the dock in early morning. The diamonds sparkling on the calm water as minnows tickled my fingers that dangle oh-so-still in the water. The warmth of the sun is welcome in the lingering coolness of the night. In these minutes my eight-year-old body is ageless, I have the curiosity and innocence of childhood and the wisdom of age. I am one with the world, and the world is good. My 70-year-old body is still ageless as I feel myself on this dock. I can be.

Aging is strange. I know I don’t have long to live, maybe 10 to 15 years. This length of time felt so long when my body was young and I was growing, developing. Now that my body is declining I don’t long for the future, at least not the future as we measure time in years. I wonder if my activities of today could be my best moments? I realize that my future is uncertain.

Does choosing to photograph this dock, does the echo of Grandma’s words in the shadows of my mind mean that I am yearning for something?  Maybe I am yearning to be. Maybe I am yearning to be as I am, as I am 70, instead of as I was in some past time. Lately I have been finding joy in being as I fold laundry, make the bed, can tomatoes, read, blog, garden. How wonderful it is to savor what I am doing instead of fretting about all there is to do and whether my body will let me do it. What joy it is to be, alive in this moment. Yes, Let Her Be.

Barns & Building Character

I first posted this barn as a part of the Lingering Look at Windows – they really stand out because they are new and bright and shiny.

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Here are photos of some of the architectural details that give this barn, and a couple of other out buildings, that character so many of you said you love.

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Chicken Coop?

Chicken Coop?

I hope I am aging with character instead of just falling apart. But this got me thinking about what differentiates the two. When I look at this barn, I find character in the many details. There are many details in the design – which is probably also true of people. The more interests we have created and the life paths we have followed create character as they accumulate and form our life tapestry. They add richness to our life story. This applies to our emotional life as well as our physical. We need to care deeply, even if it means getting hurt sometimes. Do our loves and hurts show up as character in our face, especially our eyes? When we look at people with character we begin to wonder about where they have been and what they have seen and what life music they heard through the years.

These sliding doors are salvaged for home use.

These sliding doors are salvaged for home use.

Old buildings with character don’t have changes for cosmetic reasons. They may be maintained but changes aren’t made to make them appear as what they aren’t. The windows on this barn stand out because they don’t fit – they aren’t authentic. For us humans, in our culture that worships youth, it is hard to stay authentic to what we are. We are pulled to cosmetic surgery, to dye our hair, and dress in young fashions to keep ourselves looking young. I want to age with integrity – but sometimes I waver. I remember a conversation with my friend Trudy, who is long deceased. She was bemoaning the fact that her hands were ugly, all spotted and veined. I had been noticing how beautiful they were, how much character they had. Now as my hands are aging and I sometimes fret, I think of Trudy’s hands. I hope that someday my hands will be as beautifully aged as hers.

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Old buildings with character are used buildings. They show the signs of use. They have nicks and dings and warn spots – kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit. Have you ever noticed the difference between new furniture that is made to look warn and authentically warn furniture? The warn-through-use furniture has character. We need to use our human bodies for them to develop character. I work hard to protect my body and to respect it but I also can’t live on a shelf. I want to do things and go places. I need to live on the edge – within the reasonable bounds of what my body can do. We can tell when people lived too hard a life and their bodies age prematurely. I don’t want that but I also need to continue to get out there if I’m going to have the nicks, dings, and warn spots that says this is a life well lived.

Julie has a very interesting image of this barn that you can see by clicking on this link. Julie is just entering the blogging community so give her a warm welcome! I also suggest you follow her because her photos will be worth seeing and she has the soul of a philosopher.