I’ve had low spirits over the past few days, even as the sun finally comes out from behind the clouds and temperatures rise.
I believe we’re rounding the corner with the coronavirus, spring optimism—a little muted, a little tentative—is in the air. I go online morning and night in search of a vaccine appointment, for which I’m now eligible (no success so far). I even had visits at home from two friends of mine over the past several days, after so many weeks of none, and I can hear a whisper: Yes, we can do this, we can finally meet for lunch or coffee, we can finally hug!
At the same time, I hear about other friends who are very ill, even beginning the dying process. I don’t cry much, but in the past few days I find myself again and again looking out, lost in snow.
In Riddley Walker, a wise old woman tells Riddley that she can feel how It doesn’t feel like wearing her body anymore. It wears all of us like clothes, she says, but I think it has trouble putting on my body, like a shirt I have to stretch hard to get my arm through.
Lately I feel that it is discarding many clothes I know, clothes that were once beautiful outfits full of splashy and daring color, in-your-face frills and puffy sleeves. There are some clothes it’s not going to wear much longer.
Last thing at night, before going to bed, I put my boots and jacket on and go out to the yard in back. I walk up and down the shoveled paths of my outside home, first visiting Kwan-Yin, then going down one side and coming up the other, and finally visiting the birdfeeders that lie in deeper shadow. I stop in front of Kwa-Yin, compliment her on her latest snow outfit, and beg for compassion.
What is that?
Lately, perhaps due to the illness and death around me, I think a lot about Bernie. People ask me if I miss him. There are all kinds of missings. There are the unnumerable times when I think: Oh, if Bernie was here this is what he’d say, or If Bernie was here he’d do this, or together we’d do that. Situations galore come up, like my friend, Maggie, who’d come to clean the house and loved to tell Bernie off—”So now you’re making yourself coffee—when I’m doing the kitchen?” or “Why are you sitting in your office when you know I have to work there?” She was the only person in the world Bernie was afraid of.
Scenes reappear, stories, and memories. Memories, too, are stories.
One night I made my nightly tour outside, came back in, and went upstairs. Lately, I’ve been listening to the music of jazz musician Keith Jarrett while reading. And out of the blue Jarrett began to played the duet from Porgy and Bess: Bess, You Is My Woman Now. I don’t think anyone has ever played this melody as simply as he played it, and the melody ran through me so deep and sudden that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. In fact, for some seconds I couldn’t “place” the music, could just listen with a vague sensation of familiarity, and then remembered what it was.
What it was and wasn’t. It was more than that famous duet, it was words and music of yearning and passion, of a promise never to be sad (No wrinkle on your brow) even in the face of fear and an unknown future. The simple melody Jarrett played went through me, the bed, the floor, the foundations, into the deepest part of the earth. The book was gone, the hour, the sense of tiredness. There were no memories, no stories, no recollections. Sadness was there but Jarrett’s melody hit a place that was beyond sadness or gladness, a place deep in the marrow of things. Yes, it was sad; it also quivered with life.
When you get to that place, you become less afraid of deep feelings. You become less afraid of your emotions and of being at their mercy, of losing all balance and control, even of being swept up by memories that recreate trauma.
What I experienced that night had nothing to do with any of this. The sadness that was there was not like some dark, heavy coat; more like an unknown instrument being plucked and creating the First Sound, and that First Sound included my sadness and loneliness and so much more, longing, yearning, and response all together.
That was the night that I had come to a pause by Kwan-Yin and begged for compassion.
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