Walking Waiting Worrying Weeping: my corona diaries

Walking helps the weeping. Springtime brings a little something new to notice each day. Mostly I’m swept up in that touch of green-gold on just-budding leaves.

Typically halfway into my walk around the lake endorphins kick in. My gaze shifts from the ground to the trees and sky. Nests show themselves. The worrying, intrinsically linked to the waiting, eases up. Today I passed a mother walking with a two-year-old. “Oh what I’d give to see the world through his eyes,” I said from a safe distance. The mother smiled.

“A seed knows how to wait,” writes Hope Jahren in Lab Girl.

“After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (Nolumbo nucifera),” she notes, “and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while human civilizations rose and fell.”

An odd irony to be reading these words in these times. Waiting tests our patience, whether in a doctor’s office or sitting in my home office wanting to scream about an Internet that seems slow today, no reason other than a traffic-jammed information highway.

This waiting is about wanting to wake to tomorrow with the promise of an end to corona in sight.

* * *

Just now a sigh. I’m looking out my window, leafless tree branches swaying. I’m waiting for words, the right ones.

Don’t words too often fail us when we most need them?

Jill Lepore, in a recent New Yorker piece:  “Every story of epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute.”

There’s a higher frequency both in the nature and number of text messages. One day a friend sends me a link to a man speaking Italian while demonstrating how to use a sanitary pantiliner as a mask. Another day she alerts me to the death of Bill Withers.

In texts with my daughter we can go so easily from conversations about shoes and trinkets and the local stores we want to make sure survive to despair over the need for convention centers to be turned into makeshift hospitals.

I glaze over numbers—is it really possible that the death toll in China is closer to 40,000, not the 3,500 reported?

It’s the individual stories that get to me most: The single mother holed up with her two-year-old. Patients struggling to breathe with lungs that sounded like sandpaper.

I suffer from supermarket stress. Get in and out as quickly as possible. Hope that I’ll find what I need. I hate wearing this mask. I hate that I have to ask the woman at the checkout counter to repeat what she said. Her mask muffles her voice.

 The other day there were three pairs of swans on the lake. Over the years just one pair.

Today it’s a swan convention, five pairs of them.

I hear more birds each day. They keep me from thinking. They remind me of something I read many years ago. Before words, we communicated through sounds. We made music.

My husband knows just the thing to make me laugh at night. Seinfeld reruns work like a charm. The other night a Netflix special, Dave Chappelle being honored with the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Today my husband tells me he was kept awake during the night with thoughts of a Russian takeover of our country. He’s convinced The Manchurian Candidate is in the White House.

“You’re starting to scare me,” I tell him. He’s troubled, too, about the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide.

I’m troubled that I can’t get a kosher chicken and brisket from the local butcher. Passover is days away. There won’t be the usual gathering of close friends and family at our seder, just the two of us.

My mother died during Passover. For years I could not recall the solar calendar date (April 8), only the lunar (Jewish) calendar date, 15 Nissan. This year brings synchronicity to the two ways of marking my days.

My daughter amuses me with a text about how Larry David, our favorite curmudgeon, copes during corona times. Today she texts me an alert from the White House COVID-19 coordinator re: avoiding supermarkets and pharmacies.

I take it all in, the worrying and the weeping. And I ask myself, by not rushing out to buy chicken and brisket a week ahead of time, am I simply being my normal, pre-corona-anxiety-stricken self? And isn’t that a good thing? If it turns out I don’t get what exactly what I want for a Passover meal, I’ll. make do with what I get.

New York State reported a drop in the death toll (594 new deaths, down from 630 the day before). The governor says it could be a ‘blip.’

April 6, 2020

Divesting

storageBehind a very beautiful corrugated wall of perforated aluminum in my downstairs family/entertainment room are shelves and shelves of ‘stuff.’  Blankets and books.  Assorted theatrical lighting accumulated from my husband’s days as an interior designer. Suitcases and a toolbox or two.  A classic (nonworking) IBM Selectric typewriter, a vintage electric Smith-Corona, and possibly the nearest and dearest to my heart, my very first portable Olympia.

Let’s not forget the boxes filled with what we generously call memorabilia.  My wedding gown and hat, not to mention the congratulatory cards filled with loving thoughts that date back to 1984. Invitations and leftover party favors from the day my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah (more than ten years ago). Trinkets and toys and dolls – Barbies/American Girls/My Little Ponies.  Sundry ribbons and buttons and any little ‘truc’ to remind us of my daughter’s extracurricular activities and her cherished summers at camp in Maine. Her artwork and the pieces she wrote for (high school) classes that moved her and (college) applications that would take her to places she longed to go.

My very own personal box of old photographs, letters, and postcards (even one I sent to myself on my first trip to Florence, just for the fun of it). Birthday cards from ‘marker’ years. My training log for the NYC Marathon, 1981.

Magazines that bear the mark of collectors’ items (go ahead, laugh): The 40th anniversary issue of Esquire, 5th anniversary  issue of Ms. Magazine, 75th anniversary issue (plus more than a few others) of the New Yorker, literary journals I’ve cherished.  Favorite issues of National Geographic.  Just opening any of them reminds me of something long gone, the vivid glossy photographs that fired my imagination and longing to travel, a quaint reminder that tangible had a different meaning in pre-1024×768 resolution days.

A box of papers and maps that belonged to my father-in-law, including the log book from his days as a WWII navigator.  An old camera of my father’s, a relic from his war days, along with the (yes) snapshots of him and his buddies stationed in North Africa and Italy.

Blankets and pillows and lamps, oh my!

***

Last weekend finds me in the attic of a dear friend’s house, a break from the table between dinner and coffee.  If size is a factor, this attic can easily handle its accumulation.  Except for one thing. The person who knows this attic best, the woman whose house it is, wants it cleared of excess.  She wants this attic to speak to/for what matters.  This beautiful house, home in every rich sense of the word to the children who grew up here, is in a state of flux. The daughter is months away from becoming a mother herself.  The question, implied here, is one I think about a great deal:  once the children are gone, what does ‘home’ retain? An essence, intangible as it is, that speaks to a time and place imprinted in our being.

There’s a trundle bed lying on its side in the attic, dislocated from the son’s room, now elegantly turned into a guest room. It is the ten-by-twelve space it always was. Only now there is an elegant queen-size bed to replace the trundle bed, and some of the furniture has been removed. Once again my husband does his design/decorating magic.

Of all the things in the attic – the chairs and conference table from her husband’s office, the boxes and boxes of wedding gifts her daughter and son-in-law cannot (yet) make use of in their NYC apartment, the things from her own life she has deemed ‘save-worthy’ – it is the bed that appears to bother her least. Maybe her daughter can make use of it one day, she thinks. Only her daughter has clearly said she doesn’t want it.

I suggest she get rid of the bed.

The beauty of an attic is what the very word suggests:  what we put aside into those pockets we can’t let go of.  And why should we?  Everything we accumulate becomes a part of who we are. Until one day, when we threaten to drown in the very accumulation. Perhaps the ‘value’ my friend places on the bed has as much to do with the sentimental/emotional space it occupies as its actual worth.  Why not give it away, perhaps to a family recovering from the deluge only months ago that cost it its home, beds, and more?   A new bed will find its way to her grandchild, when the time comes.  And the things she would like her family members to divest will eventually find their way out of the attic.

Letting go does not come easily for most people I know, myself included. Then there’s simple sentiment, the desire to pass along things that connect us generation-to-generation.  How do we reshape the very places we call home – in a way that suits what they now are and still retains the essence of what they once were?

Back to my own little storage corner, with the empty boxes my husband makes available and I start to fill, my own sense of not wanting to wait until leisurely choice becomes necessity. We’re so good at getting rid of things when have to. I do a pretty good job (or so I think). Nobody wants used stuffed animals anymore, so into the ‘discard’ box they go. Books, children’s games I can donate to the local thrift shop go into another box, along with a wallet I stopped using years ago, milky with dust from sitting on a shelf. I fill the box, give it to my husband.  Before he closes it up, he pulls out the wallet. “You can’t give this away,” he says.  It’s a brown leather wallet (Prada), a little worn but usable, a gift from my brother-in-law for a marker birthday, my 50th.   Someone else will enjoy using it, I say. He agrees, even if he has a different someone else in mind. He cleans up the wallet, places it into a box of its own. Sends it off to my daughter.