Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density! . . .
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
The poet May Sarton wrote the above words in a year of deep depression. Sometime during that year she found her voice again:
My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence . . . I go up to Heaven and down to Hell in an hour, and keep alive only by imposing upon myself inexorable routines.
Settle down, I tell myself. Stop going places. Even at this time I drive to the bank, get a food item I’d forgotten, go to the farmers cooperative to get dog and bird food.
In my last post I wrote that I see this age of coronavirus as a gap. When I do (or used to do) yoga in the Greenfield YMCA, and my talented Iyengar teacher tells us to pause after our exhalation, if only for a few seconds, that, too, is a gap. I’m not inhaling, I’m not exhaling—what is this moment? It’s a gap in our routine of breathing, just like the virus is a gap in our routine of working, eating, shopping, socializing.
Now I look back at all the things I took for granted before. I met my friends for dinner, we went to a movie, I hugged a student, I hugged a friend, I boarded a plane or a train, went to meetings. That’s when things were solid! That’s when everyone knew what they were doing! That’s when the world did what it was supposed to do!
Now everything feels fragile, tender, and uncertain. And I realize that this is what’s real—the fragility, the tenderness, and the powerful realization of how dependent I am on others and they on me. How much I appreciate the guard at the door to Trader Joe’s cleaning the carts as they came out (and letting only a few of us in at a time). The cashier at the bank who works inside to take care of me as I do my banking more safely outside at the drive-in stations. The person at the post office wearing gloves.
I’m older than all of them, I get the most benefit out of their care.
Everything is so permeable, only I don’t experience life like that when everything is cool. Now I experience it. This gap, as I call it, is nothing but the reality that I usually shut out. Now I can’t shut it out.
The day after we had snow was beautiful and cold. I took the dogs into wetlands in the woods. Harry saw a large heron fly high above us and chased and chased.
“Harry, you can’t catch a heron,” said Aussie.
Harry chased it and chased it, and plop! fell into the icy water. He came out, shivering, and shook himself.
“You think you’re God?” said Auss.
I usually think I’m God. There may be things missing in my life or things hurting in my body, but basically I’m important. My ideas are important. I’m Essential Personnel.
The practice is to de-Godify myself, and to de-Godify anything else I call God.
I Facetimed with my grandson Sunday morning and his mother said to him: “Tell Grandma Eve about what happened when we lost power.” The little boy starts, but the story he tells is what happened shortly after he was born and in the hospital, and the hospital momentarily lost power due to a storm (a story he probably heard from his parents).
Immediately his mother said, “No, not that story, the one about—” She hesitated, relented, and said, “That’s okay, tell your story.”
She let him tell his story. She was de-Godifying.
It’s the same with corporations, profitability and the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, they help create wealth. It’s when we make them God, the only thing that’s true or important, there’s a problem.
Right now we’re making Gods out of doctors and health professionals. There’s a lot we owe them, they put so much on the line every day and work tirelessly for our sake. They’re not God. Their job is to keep us healthy. Their job isn’t necessarily to think about those who lost their jobs and salaries, can’t pay rent, can’t pay for food.
Our restaurants here are completely closed. I know that some of them hire folks who may not be here legally, pay them under the table. I know that some of those employees live several to a room in local apartments. They’ve all lost their jobs and they won’t get any checks from the government.
Health professionals don’t think about them, it’s not their job. Somebody has to. Whoever does also won’t be God but rather one plant in a flowering garden that excludes no one.
We all count. Nobody’s God.