What Was Found
Since last March I have been live-streaming yoga classes in a corner of my bedroom. Most mornings, I look out the window, toward my backyard, and the house behind me. From my vantage point, high up on the second floor, I usually see the shadow of my neighbor at her kitchen sink, or sitting at her table with the daily newspaper. We met years ago, when we first moved into our house. She was at a different stage of life, her children grown, and because she lived on the street behind me, and our homes were separated by two fences, a huge beech tree and the slope of a hill, I rarely saw her as we went about our daily business.
As the days of the pandemic turned to weeks, and the weeks became months, I noticed that my neighbor’s husband was never in the picture that framed my morning view. I didn’t see his face by the window, or his shadow as the sunlight illuminated their table.
It nagged at me, so one day I asked a neighbor if everything was okay, and where was Susan’s husband? That’s when I learned he had passed away, four years prior. Four years of not knowing, four years of not noticing.
Covid has created a reckoning, not just for me, I think, but for a lot of us. We know how much has been lost, but what have we found? What blurry visions along our periphery have been called more sharply into focus? Who else’s lonely shadow by the sink have we colored in? We are explorers in a world that has shrunk down to a size that allows us to see more, illuminated by the lights we leave on longer. What have we found?
These days, I watch the birds pluck, with their pointy beaks, the soft clumps of fur left behind by our dog's brushing weeks ago, and I wonder at the innate radar that sent them here to gather the nesting. I find myself tuning in to the buzzing breath of life that sits below the stillness. I hear the flutter of a dry leaf on the bare branches of Susan’s beech tree, and it reminds me of the playing cards we used to attach with a clothespin to the spokes of our banana bike wheels. With my eyes I trace the sound higher and higher, and all the way up to the last lonely leaf preparing to let go before the tree pushes out its new buds. I follow that leaf all the way back to my neighbor’s window, to the strength of letting go and moving on framed within the light. What was found: awareness.
I hear the voices of children playing, and I look out in search of them. I delight in the quiet interrupted, by the dark-haired boy kicking a soccer ball in his backyard. I remember again my own boy, now a young man, doing the same so many years ago. I relish the lightness that comes with that view, and the continuity it represents, in the midst of so much upheaval; in the spirit of that child, undaunted.
And in these moments, I realize that the collective sadness of this past year has allowed me, ironically, and little by little, to relinquish some of my singular sadness, all the ways I have coddled myself over these last few years; turning the natural beauty of my children growing into adults, (and my part in that!) into something to grieve?! What was found: perspective.
This year, the national outcry for social justice managed to silence the voice within myself that insists irrelevancy is a natural byproduct of getting older. I have been shaped by the partisan politics of our country, like most around me. But that battlefield has unearthed the rich soil of truth, the hard rock foundation of fact. Both exist and cannot be “altered,” no matter how many will try. You may have an opinion or a perspective, or a personal history that differs from mine, but the earth is still round, and reality, well it’s real. Clarity was found.
Medicine and nutrition, and the sheer luck of being born in this zip code, in this day and age, have inoculated so many of us from death, creating an almost literal expectation of escaping its grasp, and with that, a manic rush to deny Covid’s very existence by many. How else can we explain the arrogance and anger around putting on a mask? The idea that an inconvenience designed to protect could illicit such fierce outrage and rejection points to a disconnect with the very reality of death in our lives.
You have to go back a hundred years to visit with the fellow Americans who experienced a pandemic the likes of which we are living through right now. I wonder what those ghosts would tell us, if we could tap their shoulders and share our 21st century horror with them. I suspect they would be grieving in much the same way, but I can’t help but feel that they would be wiser, more circumspect, more capable, even, of grasping all the loss. I suspect they would know more, how to mourn. What was found: humility.
As the torrent of our loss swells into a tidal wave, it is harder and harder to “stand by the grave,” so to speak. The sheer scope is so overwhelming, and the mind is built to adapt, and so you do that. You put your head down, you move through all the lives gone like a ghost yourself, until….
Until you see a baby snuggled up beneath her blankets, pushed along by a mother, and you wave and smile, and stop short, at the miracle of a tiny human just being. Until you see the owner of your favorite restaurant hustling out the door to hand a bag of takeout to a parked car, and you unroll your window and yell out a loud Hello, with utter and disproportionate delight, because you are so happy just to see him.
Until you have to hoist your old pup up and into the back seat, and you remember how he used to bound out of the car and fly down the rocks and into the salty blue waves waiting. And the memory makes you weep, right there in the driveway.
You weep because the heart, which cannot hold the enormity of this year’s suffering, has somehow hemorrhaged into a thousand tiny hearts. And all those tiny hearts, they crack open like the Easter eggs our children scampered around the yard in search of, every Spring. They open and they scatter their gifts on the greening grass: the small, the simple, the barely before noticed abundance, the minutia of everyday miracles. And in that light, illuminated by all the longing and the loss, you see. What was found.