April 26, 2020 § 8 Comments
I take nothing for granted these days. I make no easy assumptions. I have no expectations beyond this moment.
This makes disappointment less likely and, strangely, it makes the small things: modest tasks accomplished, the beauty of the non-human life around me, the throaty voice of my guitar, the unexpected message from a friend, feel like gifts—if I don’t expect, anticipate, or feel deserving-of, when the good happens, gratitude washes over me.
This flood of gratitude, far rarer when I believed I controlled my destiny, is a reaction I hope I don’t lose when the panic passes.
The downside is that I don’t dare to hope or let myself look ahead and plan—what if the current darkness catches me nurturing that glimmer and snuffs it out?
Without hope or plan, I hold on tight to right-now, the future a bridge too rickety to walk across.
I clutch this moment hard, doing one thing, then the next. I call a friend, stir the spaghetti sauce on the stove, sit on my front stoop and gaze into the yard, I cross a small and finite task off my small and finite list, and I keep going.
Yes, I keep going.
I haven’t given up. I hold a pen and write my daily pages, realizing that if nothing else, I am a witness, one of many court stenographers recording the unfolding and overwhelming case being made by the pandemic.
Although what I am recording has changed since “normal” took a hike, I have always been a writer, a journal-keeper. By doing the things I have always done I prove to myself that I am still me.
And so I write.
I make music.
I weed the garden.
I reach out to others, although I can no longer hug them, or get close enough to breathe the same air.
I study the buzz and hum of the natural world.
And I think.
I am still here, acknowledging—and experiencing perhaps for the first time—this moment.
I would love to regain the luxury of planning, the comfort of believing in a long, long future, but this moment is all I have, and I now realize, it is all I’ve ever had. And it is enough.
April 19, 2020 § 6 Comments
I remember neighbors in our suburban New Jersey development bringing their kids over to see my dad’s garden. “This is where vegetables come from,” they’d say, meaning, vegetables grow out of the dirt, and this is what they look like before they are put in cellophane-wrapped boxes, but the kids would blink up at their parents. “Vegetables come from Mr. Fogelin’s garden?”
As adults we are almost as clueless. Our vegetables still come out of cellophane-wrapped boxes, grocery store freezers, plastic bags, those snap-shut lettuce coffins, and the bounty is endless.
We can have any fruit or vegetable at any time of year. “Seasonal” is a nice little flourish added to items on the supermarket promo that gets tossed in the driveway once a week. “Seasonal” means local, or fairly local, and probably recently picked, but our supply chain centipedes across continents, and we don’t even think about where those vegetables come from.
As long as grocery store shelves are well-stocked, why would we think about it? Our food comes from everywhere! Sure, once in a while we are inconvenienced by the absence of a particular item at the grocery store, but that’s all it is; an inconvenience. Until now, we’ve had no reason to contemplate the magic of supply.
Now, as supply and demand lurch like a pair of mismatched dance partners, maybe it is time to consider the true cost of this way of feeding ourselves.
Is a box of tomatoes trucked across the country to a supermarket the same as a colander-full of tomatoes grown in Mr. Fogelin’s garden?
Getting commercial tomatoes to Publix contributes to global warming as the climate-controlled truck steams along the interstate. Growing those tomatoes likely polluted a local water source as mono-cultures require lots of pest control (Mr. Fogelin’s tomatoes were not always perfect, but in my book, delicious and sun-warmed beat perfect). Since days-to-market equal money, a lot of growth-boosting inputs were poured on those commercial plants.
Having picked up produce at a local market for our neighborhood food bank, I know, firsthand, the amount of waste in the system. The USDA estimates that food waste in America runs between 30 and 40 percent.
What if…what if we moved production closer to consumption? Wouldn’t we be more resilient and less vulnerable in times like these?
What if we reckoned the true cost of getting what we want any time we want it, and what if we were required to pay the true cost?
If we ran on that calculus, there would be more gardens like my dad’s, and less plastic, fewer pesticides, less CO2 in the atmosphere, no mono-cultures, and kids would know vegetables come from sunlight, water, and dirt (some of which is under the gardener’s fingernails). All it takes is a patch of earth, a packet of seeds, and rolled up sleeves.
I recognize that what I am saying has been said many times before, but we have been given one big gift by this catastrophe; the gift of time, and with that gift, the opportunity to rethink the way we do things.
Note: In many parts of the country it is time to turn the soil and plant some seeds. How about it?
April 12, 2020 § 3 Comments
God sat slumped, his hands on his knees.
When he had unbottled the primal soup that got the whole universe-time-life thing going he had unleashed a festival of possible outcomes, but perhaps he had added too much of that one ingredient, change.
Or perhaps the element, striving, which was shared by all things lit with the spark of life, was too strong.
Or it could be that he had stirred in too little of that moderating element, balance…
But for whatever reason, once in a while one of the competitors in the panoply of living species went rogue. It out-competed and overwhelmed the others.
There was that time with the locusts, a rustling conflagration that blackened the sky…
Prior to the current Corona virus plague, the species now under attack, the one self-named Homo sapiens, had mounted a plague of its own, one that made locusts look like pikers.
Homo sapiens were indiscriminate when it came to who they plagued: elephants, trees, fish, water, air, and earth.
But now, they were the ones in trouble. The ones snuck up on, and they were scared.
God sighed. He had a soft-spot for Homo sapiens, although their gathered praise embarrassed him (even if he did enjoy the singing). He poured succor down when they suffered, but did not give them what they asked for, which was a fix, a miracle. As much as they begged and flattered, he didn’t change the what-is he had created. It didn’t work that way.
If only they could see existence as so much more vast than what they were experiencing on the pinpoint of time. If only they put their faith in the eternal what-is. Then they would know that everything was, is, and always will be, okay.
But in this moment they are panicked. He’d seen this behavior before, this retreat into superstition; hadn’t he given them minds, curiosity, and reason?
Yes, he had. He’d equipped them with a tool kit to fix just about anything.
Now, all he could do was sit and watch, rooting for the ones with test tubes, charts, determination, and focus, pouring encouragement down on those who were throwing their own lives in the path of the deadly virus, and mourn those who behaved as mindlessly as the virus that was plaguing them.
“Come on, Homo sapiens,” he whispered. “Open the tool kit I gave you. Come on, Homo sapiens. Live up to the name you’ve given yourselves!”
Note: Click “The Never-Ending Adventures of God” page to read more accounts of the Almighty in action.
April 8, 2020 § 5 Comments
One of the ways I have coped with this scary, uncertain time is to randomly read a day from one of my old journals. Whether bad or good, that day is safely in the past—I know the thread of my life continued to unspool after it passed—and some of the entries cheer me up, like this one.
October 9, 1997
I’ve been wearing a pair of black tights Josie calls my “elephant tights.” They bag around my knees and bunch at my ankles. They don’t snap tight against my legs in the way the word “tights” leads you to believe they should.
I am, in fact, suffering a general elastic failure. My underpants too slosh around my hips as loopy as a sombrero. I have not shrunk. My clothes have grown. Every band of elastic has let out its breath, given up.
At work, I stepped out of my half-slip carrying cardboard to the recycle bin. Perfect timing. Had I been anywhere near Howard (desk to my left) it would have ended up on my tombstone. But perhaps that old slip was showing loyalty. I’ve had it since high school. That’s 28 years of keeping my skirt from walking up my legs. Such service! A slip worthy of being bronzed.
When you keep clothes as long as I do they seem more like companions than fashion statements. The staunchest among them have a greater life expectancy than most large mammals, and all birds with the exception of parrots.
Lately I buy nothing but secondhand clothes. The original owner washes the stiff out, then gets bored, and bags the garment for Goodwill. But when I buy it for cheap the dress or shirt is still up for long years of useful life. Some fabrics, like denim, improve as they mature. They stay strong but grow supple. They get familiar with the physical shape of the wearer. Me.
Shoes have a shorter life span. Especially shoes taken for regular walks and worn daily, like mine. They still last, but over time you have to cut those shoes some slack. The rubber pad on the bottom of the heel wears away first, giving you a peek at the honeycomb construction inside. The honeycombs pick up pebbles and sand when you take those shoes for a walk, and deposit little heaps when you walk back inside.
If your every-day shoes are black, and if you have polished them semi-faithfully, they will have developed handsome, intelligent wrinkles across the insteps. They will have the wizened sheen of salted Italian olives.
Following heel failure, the sole will begin to separate from its uppers. At about this time you will start feeling sorry for your shoes. You will refrain from putting your feet up, concealing their decrepitude, but they’ll be awfully comfortable. And they will be old friends. And you will think, they’re not so bad. Not completely tragic. Think I’ll go for a walk.
Note: The shoes in the photo are current. My daughter is still embarrassed.
April 5, 2020 § 8 Comments
In different times, the activities I am about to describe might be called Zen. In these times these tasks are my way of dealing with being stunned, dazed, and in free fall. What do I do?
The thing that is right in front of me.
It is usually a physical thing, something done primarily with my hands. I knead bread, sew on a button, play guitar, hang the laundry, wash the dish that is in the sink.
As I do each thing I concentrate, doing the job meticulously and well, as if it is the only thing needed from me.
Maybe one thing is all I can handle given the enormity of what we are going through.
Maybe I need the sense that I still control something.
And maybe, as most of the tasks create order, I do them because I need to believe that I can impose order on the whirlwind.
With this process I fool, prop up, and encourage myself.
Each morning I create a list; not an overwhelming list, but not one that is too easy to be taken seriously, or one that is too scary. In this time of the pandemic the list could be: breathe in, breathe out, stay in the house, breathe in, breathe out… Instead I concentrate on things I can accomplish, none too easy or too hard (this sounds like the story of the Three Bears, right?).
The goals are concrete and limited so I can achieve and cross them off in a day.
Perhaps my creative right brain is placating my logical left. My right brain instinctively knows my logical left would freak out if it realized it is totally adrift and lacking control, so my right brain is cheering it on, “Look at you, getting the laundry folded so neat and orderly, you go!”
Maybe my logical left is reassuring my scattery right, “Don’t worry, I got this. You know I always do.”
Or maybe they are two wounded soldiers leaning against each other as they limp through a mine field toward safety as far away as the horizon.
Whatever is going on, each time I cross something off my list I feel a disproportionate sense of joy—way to go, me!
Then I shift my gaze to the next task on my list.