HOW DO YOU CONNECT WITH A MASK ON?

I left my home yesterday morning, got up the driveway, a yellow alarm showed—Check Hybrid System!—and the car died. I called the Toyota service station and they suggested I have it towed, so I left the car on the side of the road and stood against the trees, waiting for the tow truck to come.

What a joy it was to have this unexpected time to see our road winding its way under an arch of trees. I remembered that years ago, when I used to work in Palestine and Israel in their dry summers, I’d come home to New England and have to cover my eyes. “Everything is so green here,” I’d tell Bernie.

Enormous trees leaned over the road, their thick limbs cantilevered in all directions, and I felt deeply served. I hadn’t counted on losing the car for the day, but had a deep trust that life was taking good care of me.

I’m going through an anxious time; I don’t know what’s up for me. My screenplay probably needs a big overhaul and I have to think about whether I wish to do it or not. It served me greatly as part of a mourning process, a familiar phenomenon. Writers write in response to their own lives, but taking the step from the personal to the public, from the confessional to the artistic, is a whole other matter.

I don’t feel a drive to come up with an answer. Nor  do I feel a drive to look at any of the other books, manuscripts, ideas, scenarios, notes, and all the stuff writers assemble over years. I’m used to being driven, and I don’t feel driven now, which worries me a little. My identity begins to break down. In Zen that’s a good thing; in life, so-so.

I get nourished on Tuesdays when I meet undocumented families in the area. I never expected to do this, but the world (you!) responded so I run with it, and I will continue running with it till I get a different message.

We have usually occupied a shaded bench on a main street corner, but a barber shop opened, with people waiting outside to be let in (some with distance and masks, some without), so we moved. But families know this corner now and they come one by one. The farming sector is opening up, I’m told, there are more hours of work but not as many as usual. Still no jobs in restaurants, cafes, B&Bs, hospitality sector. When the time of re-opening comes, not all will reopen.

We visited Flora (made-up name) who’d just given birth four days previously. The last week she’d arrived with a bulging belly; now there’s a new baby. There was a banner (Welcome Emma!), paper flowers, and a couple of balloons. We gave food cards and cash. Jimena put on gloves to hold the baby, who was big and seemed happy, cooed upon by her two sisters and neighbors.

Flora looked amazingly alert and strong, large-bodied with no trace of the large belly she’d had a week earlier. Resilience shone out of her eyes. She’d given birth in the midst of very hard times, but she was gambling on life. She had a 20 year-old in addition to the two girls and the baby. Behind her and ahead of her were thousands of more meals, thousands of hours taking children to school, thousands of wake-up and putting-to-sleep hours. There was no talk of the virus, of uncertain futures and looming risks. There was only life, and as we all know, life is a blessing.

I felt strange there, an American white woman, barely following the Spanish teasing and jokes. I never had children, rarely hold babies.

How do you connect with a mask on? How do you connect when all you see are eyes and eyebrows, no nose, mouth, chin, throat. Can’t tell nationality, can’t tell if you have good teeth or bad, whether you wear a nose ring or have a sore on your lips, whether you have a mustache or a beard. Can’t see all those things that are usually so important, part of our identity, part of what we present to the world.

And yet we do connect. Our eyes laugh rather than our mouth, we can see the laughter wrinkles below them and on the sides, brows rising in delight at the  sight of a new baby looking at us with blue eyes.

You can go maskless all you want, shake hands with strangers, hug, kiss, violate every rule in the rulebook. Does it mean your connection is better, stronger, more authentic? When you don’t wear a mask, is it for more connection or because that beard, mustache, nose ring, and good teeth are important to show the world, to remind people: This is who I am.

The service shop called to tell me that a veritable colony of mice have settled inside the car, chewing through wires, shorting circuits, and generally building a brave new mouse world. Hundreds of dollars to fix—if it can be fixed. If it can’t, I’ll have to call it quits, ask for insurance money, and get another car.

“Mice did all that!” I exclaimed.

“Afraid so,” was the glum answer.

And I had always taken such good care of my Prius, the only new car I ever bought. I was determined it would last till I die. “The best-laid plans of mice and men,” wrote Robert Burns. The mice lost their great civilization (“They escaped into my dealership,” the man told me), while I may be losing my car.

Time to lean back against the gnarled bark of another ancient tree and listen to what life has in store. “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” I can’t remember who said that.

If you’d like to put food on the table of people like Flora and her children, you can use the Donate button below and please add: For food cards. You can also send a check to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 and write food cards on the memo line. And thank you for your messages of support and encouragement that often accompany these donations, it’s a big boost.

And if you love householder koans as I do, please join us this coming Monday at noon US Eastern time here for an hour’s presentation of the koan: Christina: How Pathetic I Am!