“Oh Aussie, I’m so happy to see you! Did you miss me?”
“Did Tim take good care of you?”
“You bet! Where is he now?”
“Where did you go, Aussie? What did you do? Tell me everything.”
“We went out on at least two walks every day. I met everyone in his family, made friends with a young puppy, went to a barbecue, went to a party, and finally he took me to the Cape for several days.”
“Aussie, he took you to Cape Cod?”
“You bet! You know where you take me? To the same forest, the same preserve, the same ponds, the same Plains day after day.”
“I don’t go anywhere else, either, Aussie.”
“I’m too young for this kind of life. I need more adventure!”
I came home yesterday morning to an empty house. No one was home, not even Aussie, who wouldn’t be arriving for a short while with Tim. I did what I always do: dragged the valises up the steps, and then went out and walked all around to get my bearings. Saw that a bright orange dahlia had bloomed, but not the others. The grass was wet and mowed, Black-Eye Susans everywhere. Bowed to the large, wooden Kwan-Yin in back and noticed there was no dog shit to pick up in the back yard.
The first thing I did after I unpacked was to get out my clippers, cut some flowers, and put them on the altars in the house. I have some 5 downstairs and 1 upstairs, not including Kwan-Yin outside. I’ve taken care of them for some 22 years. There’s an altar with a small Kwan-Yin and Maria of Guadalupe for folks who’ve died, including Bernie. There’s Maezumi Roshi’s altar. There’s Sarasvati, the goddess of speech, by my desk, and another altar upstairs where I sit.
When I left for Israel, I knew the flowers on the altars needed to be replaced but I ran out of time. So now I restored beauty and order. Candle here, incense there, flowers here. Get the basics right, I remind myself. Set up the foundation, and the rest will come.
I have faith in that, empty house and all. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rumble of nervousness in my stomach, a need to press my bare feet against the hard wooden floor to remember that something is holding me even here, without family, no sister, brother, mother, or husband, no lunches made by my brother-in-law who’s a fabulous chef.
A student and friend came by with kale, lettuce, and tomatoes from her garden, not to mention milk from the cow next door, eggs from her farm, fruit, and frozen fish from an organic fishing enterprise in Alaska. She knows I’m in quarantine once again. My heart swelled with gratitude to see her.
Speaking of quarantine, I’m shocked by the lack of any kind of reminder at Newark Airport that you have to go into quarantine if you’ve traveled internationally. Landing in Tel-Aviv, stern medical aides were everywhere taking your temperature, asking you the usual questions about your health, reminding you of a 14-day quarantine, asking me where I plan to spend it, my contact information, warning me the police will come to check up on me. They didn’t, but believe me: I got the message!
I land in Newark, figuring that they’ll tell me what the precise restrictions are. Instead I sped through passport control and customs, walked out into Arrivals, and finally outdoors where I could take off my mask after hours of wearing it the entire trip. No one stopped me to check my health, no one said a thing about health rules for international arrivals. No one in the airport so much as mentioned covid.
It’s not as if I expect police to check up on us here as they do in Israel, this is a much bigger country. But not even a mention on the plane or in the airport! No one bothering with temperature, no stern admonishments, no contact information.
They leave us to our own. So, I go with Aussie to the woods (a sad disappointment after the beach at Cape Cod), I’ll use the drive-by banking tomorrow, maybe wash the car. I’ll be careful; I want others to trust me.
There’s sudden thunder and Aussie sidles over to me, rests under my arm for a moment, then relaxes and walks to the other room. Patience, I tell myself and her. There are still adventures ahead for both of us, only I’m probably not there yet. I live in a house with lots of photos of my dead husband and our activities on the walls, Buddhist images and art, drawings and pictures of people we’ve known, people who’ve studied here, dreams both dreamt and undreamt, questions answered and usually unanswered.
I loved it, still love it. What does it take to turn the page?
“Leave the house,” people tell me. “Get something smaller, more manageable.” Where, I wonder.
I need to belong to something—an endeavor, an earnest effort, a vision dancing on the horizon. A friendship. A love. It is a great privilege to belong—to these woods, to the immigrant families I hope to see later this week, to a Zen sangha, to life. It’s even a great privilege to pay the price of belonging, which is to lose it all in the end.
“Meantime, Aussie, patience. I know, I know, it’s not my strong suit.”
“Not mine, either,” says Aussie. ”Wake me up when you get your act together.”