With no foxes in sight lately, I’ve taken to feeding birds — thus, feeding squirrels — on my back porch. Though the wrens, sparrows, robins and cardinals are pretty, I’ve somehow wound up paying more attention to the squirrels, all grey fur and white chests, who jump and climb all over the place like the Flying Wallendas. One, with a head like a wedge, appears daily. I’ve named him Charles. He’s skittish, but just a couple days ago, he sat still as I tossed him a peanut.
I hope to get close enough to have him take peanuts from my hand, but I know that’ll take time and patience. So I sit there with my coffee cup and wait for him.
It’s a pleasure and a luxury to sit still for a little while. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Stopping brings body and mind together, back to the here and now.”
Last weekend I took a calculated risk and visited friends in Greensboro for some social-distanced socializing. Greg Grieve and Sarah Krive, a couple of UNCG faculty members, live north of downtown in a neighborhood much like our West End.
The steps on the edge of their yard are presided over by a torii — a tall, traditional Japanese gate. Their front yard is, by turns, manicured and overgrown, full of statuary and wooden sticks arranged in patterns and a stone pathway partially covered by moss and flowers and probably some crops hidden somewhere — it’s not a large yard, but it’s chock-full of goodness. The morning was cool, with a breeze blowing across their wooden-slat porch.
They and their guests wore face coverings unless we were well apart. We were mostly well apart.
I couldn’t tell you what was said, but now and then it was funny and I laughed for what seemed like the first time in months. It felt good, like having my insides massaged.
Amidst all the turmoil, I think I’d just forgotten about laughter.
Let me recommend it to you now. It’s good stuff. And laughter generated by real people is better than laughter generated by videos of Ricky Gervais or Taylor Tomlinson.
I’d actually caught a bit of it the day before while participating in a half-hour social-distanced shopping session at Bookmarks. I was alone while browsing the shelves, and maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that the sheer pleasure of reading the titles and skimming through pages tickled me enough to generate sound — I think I giggled — but I’m not. Another pleasure that seemed to be taken was briefly restored.
I’m adjusting, perhaps, to the new abnormal.
But it’s not all cheerful by any means. The crawl on the TV keeps announcing record-high infections and full hospitals. Journal headlines continue to report disease and social friction.
And I think some of the ridiculous political posturing in reaction to the virus is being frittered away as denial becomes impossible. So many of our neighbors continue to suffer while the rest of us fret over what will happen next. If we weren’t all in this together before, we soon will be.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board member Elisabeth Motsinger recently wrote on her Facebook page:
Grief. It’s seems that a great deal of the suffering we are experiencing is simply grief. The world that we left sometime in March is not coming back the same way and some people just can’t/won’t deal with it. It’s hard, it’s painful, and it’s true.
What you wanted to happen is not going to happen now or not right now. Cry, rage, bargain but then please be kind. Grief can make us bitter but it can also make us tender. If the world is going to be different can we at least make it better for the survivors? That’s us, that’s our children, that’s our elders, that’s the natural world that has begun to breathe deeper.
I am not saying this doesn’t hurt. It hurts. Grief is the most universal experience on this planet. …
So grieve, grieve, grieve. It’s gone. What will take its place?
The other morning I got up earlier than usual and beat a path to a deserted part of town, where I sat and let my eyes re-adjust to the dark. I wanted to see Comet Neowise — appearing in a sky near you! — the brightest comet since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. I thought it was supposed to be a bit south of Venus, but it seems to have missed the memo. So I listened to the crickets and watched Venus and the waning moon. Just sitting still.
I’ll check my data and look again, when the sky clears. I’d like to see it and imagine it to be a harbinger of better times.
And so I bounce back and forth, and I imagine you do, too, between laughter and sorrow and stillness and agitation, sometimes within the same minute, all boiling right beneath the surface of our skin like, perhaps, a pod of dolphins ready to leap into the air, just waiting for a prompt. The new abnormal.