Seeking Signs of Balance in a Time of Chaos

A couple of nights ago I woke up at 3:00 AM with this thought: These days I am connected emotionally with everyone on Earth. I’m connected with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry, my second cousins in Sweden whom I’ve never met, my cousin Terri in Texas whom I haven’t seen in 60 years, the first baseman for the NY Yankees, writers Joy Harjo and Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez, the woman who cleans rooms in the Holiday Inn in Orlando, my friends from high school, the bus driver in Las Vegas, Paul McCartney, the man who took me on a Beatles tour in Liverpool last September, my Balinese “sister” in North Bali, and the six-year-old boy whose grandmother lives across the street from me. To all of them and billions more I am connected… because we are all concerned about the coronavirus.

Pondering those connections softened the boundaries of isolation that this disease pierces me with two or three times a day, as do—if I allow myself to indulge in them—all the reactions to the disease, its constant updates, its advice and retractions of advice, its mortality rates and status on toilet paper availability. I’m trying to figure out what we can learn from the coronavirus, how we can actually become more connected as a result rather than more isolated… more generous and compassionate rather than more selfish and self-obsessed. Here are a few ways these positive signs have arisen through the dark times in the past few days:

    • Neighbors under quarantine in Italy are building community by singing on their balconies.
    • A small group I’ve been part of for thirty years was going to have only four people in attendance in May. But then we canceled the in-person meeting and decided to hold it on Zoom, and now all seven of us can be together.
    • I live in the country and it takes 45 minutes to drive to either Binghamton or Scranton, where everything I do and shop for is located. Because so much is being canceled or closed, I’ve been spending lots of time outside in the woods and the garden.
    • I started writing a new piece I’ve had in mind for several weeks.
    • A Facebook friend posted that she’s calling people she hasn’t talked to in years.
    • When the New York Electrical Contractor’s Association cancelled its gala event in New York City because of the virus, they donated thousands of dollars of floral decorations to area nursing homes. 
    • Our minister at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Binghamton is offering not only on-line services on Sunday, but also a Monday morning meditation, a Tuesday evening discussion about spirituality in a time of crisis, and a couple of lunchtime check-ins.
    • A butcher in England sent out a notice to members of the community that, if anyone had to self-quarantine, he would put together a two-week supply of food that he would deliver to their door.
    • I talk to at least one friend every day, either on the phone, on Skype, on Zoom, or on FaceTime. I always feel better afterward.

To be perfectly honest, sometimes I plunge into immense fear about this disease and what it could mean for me and my husband, who is ten years older than I. I try to pull myself back from that precipice. But I also try not to shape my attitudes around excessive positivity and urgings to pray. I’m trying to reach out to others, stay calm, look for beauty, and spend my time doing what I love.

It all changes daily. But trying to maintain a balance is always a worthy pursuit.

What I’m reading

I’m rereading Ian Frazier’s most wonderful book, Great Plains, a nonfiction rumination on the plains of the U.S. and the strange, ordinary, sad, historic, and comical people and events that have taken place on them over the past couple hundred years, and take place still. Frazier visits Sitting Bull’s cabin and pokes around a gigantic military construction meant to outlast nuclear war. He sits in his van and looks at what’s happening in the town where Lawrence Welk got hit in the head with a brick. He picks up hitchhikers, chats with gas station attendants about the name of the local team, and wanders up dusty, deserted driveways to peer in the windows of abandoned houses—and then he describes the patterns on the wallpaper. He’s funny, observant, interested in people, and open to learning all kinds of things.

And his writing is wonderful. Describing his trek out to a Plains Indians buffalo run, where the animals were chased off a cliff edge to their death, he looks down and notes, “On the spot where so many buffalo would have landed and died, almost no grass grows, maybe out of tact.” About strip-mining he writes: “Strip-mined land is land thrown away. Usually, trash exists in a larger landscape; after strip-mining the large landscape is trash.” He writes about why he thinks Crazy Horse’s insistence on lying on the floor to die rather than on a bed in the adjutant’s office where he was stabbed was such a great act of defiance: “With his body, he demonstrated that the floor of an Army office was part of the land, and that the land was still his.”

This is a great book.

Savory Moment

Yesterday I escaped from my computer for a couple of hours to work on the land around our house. We live in a rural county in northeastern Pennsylvania, at the far eastern corner of a small (pop. 283) diamond-shaped village. We have five and a half acres of mixed woodland, garden, meadow, and orchard. When my husband Andy prunes trees, I collect the branches and twigs and weave them into a brush fence around one whole side and a few partial sides of the land. Yesterday I was on my way back to the tree pile after working on the fence at the highest part of the land. I could hear the wood frogs gabbling in the little pond, two ravens discussing something in the trees. I saw the spectacularly emerald moss on an old dead Scotch pine lying on the ground and a place in the soil nearby where turkeys had scratched looking for food. The sky was clear and blue and the scent of spring was in the air. And suddenly I knew that, no matter whether my loved ones and I survived the virus or not, the Earth would be beautiful and would endure.

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