So many changes, emotions and challenges during this global pandemic. I enrolled in a class led by Patti Digh, a North Carolina author I admire. Her class “Writers in the Pandemic” was designed to give people a place to gather and share their grief, their commonality and their expressions of hope and resilience. I wanted to share some of my writing from this class here, as a record of these uncertain times.
Look back and write about how your life unfurled during the pandemic.
I am fortunate to be retired. My income is fixed so the early cautions do not alarm me much. As time passes, the world becomes foggy while the reality is crystal clear. We have a killer on the loose. He is indiscriminate. At first only people already ill or those of a certain age are at risk. But that story changes. Every day it changes. The virus comes into port on the West Coast. People are being quarantined to protect the population. The virus laughs. We can be an ‘in your face nation’ fearing nothing, wanting only our freedom and our money — and our guns it seems.
As the weeks roll by, the supply chain is impacted. People are hoarding. Looking back, I think hoarding — unstoppable with excess money — is the white person’s form of looting. Every man for himself. More people fall sick. It is thoughout the country now. The rules for safety keep changing. Young people are dying, too. Healthcare workers respond unprotected. I cannot imagine how frightened they must have been and yet they kept going. These people are the reflection of my America.
It becomes hard to separate the lies from the truth. We get to choose who we believe. But our actions are controlled by quarantine. For a while at least. Then the desire for a haircut or a massage or a day at the beach becomes worth an armed protest in the streets. The police stand unfazed by armed white men yelling in their faces. Quite a contrast to what will follow.
Fast forward. Breonna Taylor is shot in her bed while sleeping. Ahmaud Arbery is shot to death while jogging, hunted like an animal. George Floyd is choked to death while begging for his life, pinned down in the street. WAKE UP! This is all a horrible bad dream. This cannot be my country. But it is not a dream or a nightmare. It is worse. It is reality. The protests start and escalate into riots and looting. It is a crying in the wilderness.
Still, in all of this, I must have hope. I work to find moments of joy. They are sometimes hard to find, like searching for sea glass in the sand, covered by the wave’s foamy tendrils rushing back to the sea. Life is like that single piece of sea glass. It sparkles and shines. We just need to find our way back to it.
Start writing with the phrase — In February, as a plague enters America — then select a phrase or word from the writing and expand on it.
In February, as a plague enters America, I am nonchalant. I still trust and believe and feel safe. Time moves, irritating me like water dripping from a faucet. You hear it in the beginning, but as time goes on, it has the power to drive you mad. The days fly by and when the first week of March arrives, I start to feel some fear. I question if it is wise to make this family trip. But I still have some faith. We are going to be okay. The week in the mountains is glorious, it is one for the memory books. The last day pestilence floats like a fog outside the door. The cocoon is about to burst open to a world we do not recognize. We crawl out of darkness into deeper darkness. It is a scene that will play out over again and again in the weeks and months to come. We hug goodbye – not knowing how much that simple act will become the thing we miss the most. The store shelves are being stripped. I stop at a grocery store and a woman stops me. She is buying 6 large jugs of bleach. “Excuse me, is this good to kill the virus”?
We crawl out of darkness into deeper darkness. How can this be happening? 100,000 deaths are not enough to prove the virus is real. In America, how does a young woman get shot to death while sleeping in her own bed? This is America, isn’t it? Of course it is, but America is different for each of us. The things I cannot fathom are an every day experience for others. Raise your voices — but not loudly. Gas them. Shoot rubber bullets. Hide behind riot shields. How do we have so many riot shields but no gowns or masks or nasal swabs? Say their names. March. Talk. Write. Demand change. But not too loudly. There’s no virus, remember? And there is no racism in America.
Chaos is a trigger for me. In looking back, I can see chaotic times did lead to change, but the feeling of walking toward that ledge makes me uncomfortable. I like the feeling of calm and my illusion is that if I have some control, then I will experience calm. The reality I do not like to face is that there is chaos out there and while I can keep my own tiny circle calm, I feel powerless to do anything about the big picture. I need to think about this more. Right now, to embrace this current chaos to me means following guidelines and protocols and those small steps feel like wrestling dragons with a toy sword.
I wish I could tell you what day it is, but in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the days run together. I am forever grateful that I have a comfortable and safe home that I share with someone I trust fully. We have conversations about how we would live if one of us contracted the virus. How would one support the other and try to remain healthy themselves? We talk about the possibility we might not make it through this. Sobering conversations we never thought we would have considering our current good health. But good health is not enough if you are a certain age. You are still high risk.
We have minimized our trips out of the house and have been able to buy groceries via no contact curbside pickups. The protocols have changed now and the margins of relatively safe distance continue to shrink. We take no risks other than what is critical for our survival.
I can breathe here. I love this house we share. Right now it is quiet with no visitors. I spend more time writing and reading and find great solace in the sunny spring days that afford me the opportunity to go outside. I take videos of our mountain environment where the spring flowers have burst forth in an array of color and the breezes send the soft sounds of the wind chimes through the trees. I share those sounds and images through social media so others that are in more urban environments can hear the sounds of a more normal life. The birds sing the same songs and frequent the feeders as they always have – unaware that our world has changed.
We spend our time together, cooking, and doing the mundane tasks that oddly bring us a little closer to each other. This place is full of big windows that allow a constant view of nature. It is an illusion of normalcy. Sometimes I stumble upon news that shakes me. I have culled the assaulting electronic feeds of panic that make it into this place of peace. It is a reminder that while my world feels safe and comfortable, globally, we are at war and we have found ourselves more vulnerable than we might have imagined.
Laughter doesn’t ring here as easily as it once did. Almost every conversation and interaction has something to do with the virus. It is hard to stay balanced. Really hard.
At night, I am able to sleep more peacefully now unlike in the early days when the first thought I had upon waking was the virus and the fear and the potential impact. It was exhausting.
We started a vegetable garden early. It might not make it, but we are trying. There is something about putting my energy toward something productive like growing food that gives me hope. Being outside surrounded by nature allows me to breathe. I am transported back to the days of my youth when we lived on tomato or onion or cucumber sandwiches by choice and I know how little it takes to truly survive. Honestly, I have not spent much time thinking about survival in my life — until now.
As I sit here sipping a cup of coffee, way later than I ever would have, I see the goldfinches darting in and out of the feeder. They are slowly turning bright yellow. We have a pair of bluebirds that visit several times a day and we have put out the hummingbird feeders in anticipation of their return.
I miss my family. We talk and video chat, but I miss the hugs. I wonder if we will suffer from the lack of human touch. There are no trips out for a massage or a chat with friends over a pastry at the local coffee shop. Yet, the sounds make me feel like life is normal. The birds are singing and I hear someone mowing their lawn in the distance. The breezes move the leaves of the trees creating a soft rustling sound. It is peaceful here. And I am grateful.
I cannot help but wonder what our new normal will be. I wonder how long it will be until people will be safe — and how long until we truly feel safe. Right now, I am focusing on my small place of my somewhat normal life. But I know just outside my door, reality is daunting. Everyone does not have the simple, quiet, natural surroundings that bring me peace.
I can hear the clock ticking. Funny I never noticed it before. It feels as if time has slowed down and everything around me is much more visible than ever before.
I am surrounded by the remnants of our life before the virus. Paintings of places closed to the public now. Trinkets purchased in gift shops no longer in business. Floors installed by hard working people that I could not allow in my home now. Everything outside is risky it seems. This is the only safe place now. This little house on top of a hill where the birds sing constantly. I am trying to fill it with the hope of family gatherings in the future. I dream of seeing my grandchildren here again chasing lightening bugs and looking at the stars. A house filled with hope instead of fear.
We are Not Alone
Some of us will die alone and
this memory will bring sadness for years
Traces of strong generations lost
in the hurry of too many deaths
Let there be a glimmer of hope that
rises like a Phoenix out of the ashes
Out of that hope let science once
again be the voice of reason in a troubled world
Let it inspire those that remain to
build a better and safer planet
The voices of those lost pray for
sanity and reason to prevail providing protection
To the children and grandchildren who remain
So they might never walk this path again
I imagine a little city inside myself. Cul de sacs where different parts of me reside.
There is the Fearful family that locks all the doors and never opens the windows. The shades are always drawn as if this will somehow protect them from unwanted intruders. Every cough, sneeze and runny nose poses the question “What if?”
Just next door is the Resolute family. They rarely watch the news. They do what is asked of them, but acknowledge they have little control and there is little sense of worrying about everything. Que Sera Sera.
The Hopeful family lives in a house with large windows. The shades always open to let the sunshine in. They take precautions, but spend as much time as possible outside, gardening and making plans for the future. They believe in putting positive energy into the Universe.
Then there is the Doomed family. They clean everything. Once, twice, sometimes three times. Who touched that last? Did they wash their hands? They have no one to shop for them, they are older and vulnerable but they must go out and are convinced they will breathe in the virus somewhere, somehow without even knowing it.
The Guilty family knows they experience some privilege. They were stocked on Toilet Paper because they shopped at Costco. They have a well for water. They have good health so they do not require medications. Their house is paid for and they saved money long ago. They are fortunate. But everyone around them is not so fortunate. They are losing jobs or are required to continue working. Which is riskier? They have “at risk” family who needs medical care and frequent hospitalization. They would help any way they can, but some problems do not have easy solutions.
Last but not least, the Worry family. They watch the news and check the numbers every day. They wonder if this will be the end of life as they knew it. What will become of their neighbors and their children and grandchildren? They worry about the food supply and how they will survive. They worry about the world as much as they worry about themselves. They are paralyzed in fear.
And somewhere, in a tiny little house at the end of the street, there is the Dreamer family. They hold onto hope and dream of a better time to come. In some ways, they are the strongest family of all.
They are easier to see now
Fear is a deep furrow
between the brow
I worry about
those that see anger
in enclosed spaces
with nowhere to go
Joy is jumping
in the back of the room
trying to be seen
behind all the trauma
I glance in the mirror
worry making my jaw long
And for a brief second
I see a glimmer of hope
Smiling back at me
That Discomfort You Are Feeling is Grief
But who remembers
Me when my time is done here?
The history books will not
Carry my name.
I was only important to the few who knew me.
But even the best of books
Get placed on a shelf
Hoping to be pulled out
And revisited again.
There are stories to tell.
Lives worth remembering.
A time when we walked without fear
A time of hope.
Let the stories
Tell of a time
When promise grew out of fear
And bodies were healed
And hearts, too.
Let it not be for naught. The suffering The dying The gasp of the earth crying out.
My mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The diagnosis was immediately terminal. But they treated her. No surgery they said because it could cause the cancer to spread. Her mother survived the same cancer so many years before so mom would, too. These women, my mother and grandmother, were the strong ones. They have always beaten all the odds. She was treated with cobalt and pure stick radium inserted into her body. The nurses would not go in change her catheter because they were afraid of the treatment, the exposure. She survived the treatment that left her abdomen paper thin. Then surgery was recommended. An ileostomy. I pushed away the doctors earlier words “No surgery. It could cause the cancer to spread.” There were advances every day. I sat by her bedside holding her hand. She told me the doctors said she was improving. She had a cigarette burn on her neck when she lost consciousness while smoking in the hospital bed. That would heal. She was getting better. She came home for a while. Until her body gave out to the mounting pressure in her abdomen. But she was getting better. She smiled when she told me. I listened to her talk in her daze about her childhood not understanding much of what she said. My grandmother sat beside me. She survived this long ago. My mom would, too. I went home. My dad got the call. They were wrong. It was some mistake. She was getting better. “She was never going to get better” my Dad said. But she was getting better. She knew it. I knew it, too. My grandmother survived the same disease many many years before.
I lived in the first century of world wars
told to me by my mother and grandmothers
Unused ration books tucked away in
memory boxes along with school dance cards.
I learned why my grandmother always kept
the cellophane wrapper from the butter
In case she made cookies and
needed to grease the pan.
But we would have our own stories
of our own wars but those dying
on the battlefields were old and babies
and everyone in between.
Our enemy is deadly and invisible
there are no demilitarized zones
Foxholes could not protect anyone
from the relentless enemy fire
What was once a world away now
lives in our own backyard
Stay home, stay safe
The enemy is everywhere.
She died. Then he died.
No one knew why or how
They did not hear the knock on the door
They had done all that was asked of them.
We use the word so casually
Her nagging was relentless
The weeds were relentless
The rain was relentless
We never understood what it really meant
Until now that is
The virus is relentless and vicious
As is the constant bombardment of news.
I long for the relentless rain and weeds and nagging
I long for normal things like hugging
And visits with friends
And safe trips to the grocery store.
I hate the images of the little
vicious ball with spikes that
represent fear and dying and
the loss of life as we once knew it.
I see myself in everyone: from the worst to the best.
In anger, I am at my worst. I shutdown, lockdown, everybody inside.
At my best, I am lighthearted and gentle.
At my worst, I am reliving the bad times.
At my best, I remember the good times.
When I am at my worst, I am not good around people.
At my best, I am supportive and kind.
Today I am leaning toward my worst. It has been a mucky day.
I am short-tempered and feeling angry and frustrated.
Somehow, I think sleep will put those feelings to rest.
Honestly, I am not sure I do see myself in everyone.
Sometimes I feel like I am unlike anyone else.
Sometimes I wish I could see myself in others.
My sisters were important to me – they helped me see myself.
They are both gone now.
My parents and grandparents, too.
Those were the people I could see my reflection in.
Why am I so different?
I breathe in sunlight and exhale moonlight. The rhythm beats through me like a drum in the distance. Without the light I am cast into darkness where I stumble and fall over the roots of unseen trees. The stars are the memories of all those that came before me and the constant reminder of those I have lost. The light inside me needs care or it will go out so I breathe softly to feed the flames of all that I am or ever will be. Light attracts light and darkness attracts darkness. Of course we need to dark to rest and rejuvenate. As long as the flame burns, we live. When I was a child, we heated our house by coal. I remember waking in a cold house and watching my grandfather carefully open the door of the stove. I remarked how the fire went out but I watched as he slowly moved the ashes to reveal one small ember, glowing red and gold like the sun. With care that small ember was again able to produce light and warmth and comfort. I know the light in me still burns. In times of worry, I try to remember to nourish the embers. This is the core of me. The presence of all who made my life possible and the hope for all those that will follow.
I stumble and fall. Getting up is not always easy. I feel as if my knees have grown into the earth and the effort to pull them out seems more than I can manage. I stumble and fall. It proves I am alive. It proves I feel. It proves I tried. When I stumble, I feel weak and vulnerable, but it is the rising toward the light that reminds me of my strength and my resilience. I am reminded of a favorite poem of my mother’s — The Bridge Builder. I am reminded that my life is built on the efforts of my ancestors and I owe no less to those who will come after me. I stumble and fall. But I do not break.
Trust the magic of beginnings.
They have always been here.
The birth of a new born baby, or a puppy.
Both entering a world of wonder,
looking only to be nurtured and loved.
The magic of yeast. Rising. Slowly rising.
The taste of newness in fresh baked goods.
I remember sitting on the front walk as a child.
”Wait until the dew dries”.
I sat for what seemed endless hours
”What is wrong with the dew?”
I never understood why getting my shoes wet was so bad.
It was the newness of the day I treasured.
To watch the world come alive.
The cardinals came early in the day
And returned late in the afternoon.
Ready to rest and begin again tomorrow,
We are at rest.
Readying ourselves to start anew.
New respect for each other.
New determination in how we love.
New respect for wisdom and purpose.
Trust in the magic.
Remembering the first sparkler I held in my hand.
Nervous and excited as my father carefully touched a match to the end.
It was brilliant and a little frightening.
Just as I imagine our first days to be.
Is it really safe?
Are we really free to hug again?
When the wait is over
We will be called to rise again.
To walk from seclusion into
A new normal.
I hope we remember to
Nurture our relationships
And our relationship
With the earth
We breathe as one
The earth can live without us
She has proven it before
But we cannot exist without her
Mankind and nature can coexist
As long as we respect and nurture one another
As we do our family and our friends
Let us rise up together
With renewed purpose
And breathe together,
Mankind and nature
As was intended.
I will not die alone
There are those who will embrace my memory
Knowing they would be there if they could
I came to a stark realization
that many of those I have lost
did die alone
or without me.
My grandfather on a hilltop.
My grandmother in a hospital
My dad racing to get to her
He was too late
My sisters with their children
But I was not there
I was there with some
one when they turned off
the other quietly slipped away
without making a sound
it was easy and peaceful
My tears could fill a river
but I do not wish for my children to feel that pain
I will not die alone
no one dies alone
for every person who touched our lives
remains with us through the end.