It was the perfect sequestered day.
The sun was still low as I approached Horizons Park, taking a little looping detour because of the closure of Memorial Industrial School Road. (Who gave it that bland name?) A group of horses grazed behind a fence, flicking their tails and nuzzling each other. A mob of crows hopped around on the road like little clowns.
The air was cool as I began walking on the park’s dirt trail, carrying my trusty bamboo walking stick. The forest, still in shadow, looked mysterious. Birds sang for their breakfast and water trickled through streams bordered by moss and stone. Peaceful.
Back home a couple hours later, I baked eggs for breakfast and had more coffee as I read the news, because I have to. But I soon turned to my book, Sarah Scoles’ “They Are Already Here,” an entertaining and informative history of America’s UFO subculture, and let the world drift away.
Later, I took a quick walk to the neighborhood park, just to stretch my legs. As much as I like to read, too much of it gives me the yawns.
I made lunch and decided on an afternoon matinee of Ridley Scott’s lush 2005 film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” the superior director’s cut. This time, I pretty much understood what was happening, from the Jerusalem court intrigue to its lucid moral: What man is a man who does not make the world better?
The rest of the day and evening was spent in similar solitary pursuits, with occasional breaks to exchange an email or two with distant friends. Eventually I put on the soundtrack to “Hamilton,” listening with half an ear while lazily performing a few necessary home chores. And as the ensemble sang about “working through the unimaginable,” I stopped and sobbed.
It’s a touching song, anyway. But I’d been on the edge of this particular fit for a few days — not the result of any particular event, but an accumulation of subtle pressures, from the personal to the political, heightened by the demands of the worsening coronavirus.
I’m taking sequestration seriously because with our numbers going the wrong way, I’m not, as columnist Leonard Pitts puts it, going to die of stupid. But even for someone like me who is comfortable with solitude, I’m learning the borders of that comfort. I miss being around people. I miss my friends. I fear losing the ability to carry on a conversation for 10 minutes. And I hate to absorb all the bad news of the day on my own.
As I write this, I realize that I’m living a charmed existence. Some people right now are struggling with respirators; some are mourning lost loved ones; some are fighting just to keep a roof over their heads. And some in our community were living with the steady drip of accumulated pressures, sometimes not so subtle, even before the virus hit us.
But still, I weep.
By now we’ve all heard of and seen the videos of the “Karens,” as they’re pejoratively called, privileged white women who throw temper tantrums because they’re asked to wear masks or because the chef is out of cheese or because a dark-skinned stranger is walking through their neighborhoods. Not everyone under pressure resorts to cheap racial slurs; I doubt any of those spontaneous eruptions are generated by their speakers’ first racist thought. It’s difficult to muster much sympathy for them.
But in my better moments, I’ve been reminded that suffering is suffering. And though some handle it better than others — some acquire the tools they need to persevere — there’s really no hierarchy. Despite our urge, sometimes, to say, “That’s nothing, you should see what I — ” it’s not a contest. It’s not like only the most tormented or tortured people are worthy of being heard and comforted.
You take the daily pressures, then you add the long wait in line; the desperate search for scarce goods; the closed amenities — as trivial as they seem, they may just represent the last straw of a stack that’s been piling and piling and piling with no relief in sight.
Sometimes I think it’s surprising that we’re not all blowing up.
There’s a passage from Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” that’s stuck with me over the years. It’s too long to print here, but I would paraphrase it like this:
Every day you leave your home and go out into the world. And sometimes you’re going to meet jerks; selfish, mean, ignorant jerks. It’s unavoidable.
Just remember that you’ve been a jerk once or twice, too. Jerkiness is just one part of our shared humanity.
We could all use a little grace in this pressured time. If we offer it, maybe we’ll receive it as well.
In the meantime, I recommend a good cry.