the crucible of stillness

Scanning the horizon

You have been forced to enter empty time.

The desire that drove you has relinquished.

There is nothing else to do now but rest

And patiently learn to receive the self

You have forsaken in the race of days

-John O’Donohue

Dear one,

One of the things we all are noticing during this pandemic is that it is revealing things about ourselves that we perhaps aren’t aware of, or can at least more easily deny, in ‘ordinary time’.  Stress reveals our human vulnerabilities- both physical and emotional.  Forced alone time, without access to our usual (functional and dysfunctional) ways of coping and covering, exposes those shadowy vulnerabilities. Weaknesses, fears, and flaws come seeping or screaming out of the now thin veneer. We cannot retreat into our usual behaviors, addictions and drives- even the healthier ones of those.

I see us all sitting down here together at the base of Maslow’s triangle—shelter, food, rest, safety— those things we piled atop crumbled at our feet.

This is happening not only in our personal lives, as aspects of our personality and the myriad ways we have been conditioned by our culture come undone, but in our communal ones, as well. We can clearly see what wasn’t really working for us. So, with this newfound awareness, we hope that perhaps when we begin to rebuild that pyramid we’ll choose some different bricks, firm up that foundation. What does real belonging look like? What does meaningful work look like? Can self-actualization be separated from performance and the (American) notion of ‘earning our keep’?

That so many of us are struggling so mightily with the call to be still, with the permission given for retreat, when we have been so conditioned to believe that our human ‘doings’ are what make us worthwhile human ‘beings’, is such a potent revelation. We feel as if we must do something productive! We feel selfish for taking time for ‘just’ ourselves. We feel guilty whiling. Even when we are being begged to ‘stay in’, we ‘reach out’ with offerings – some of them life-giving gifts of presence, for sure, but others a cry to be seen and valued, so as not to become invisible. I see so many people making up new kinds of work, so unseated by the notion that their very survival is dependent upon somebody buying what they are selling (or giving away freely), that they cannot let go into the invitation to do nothing, to trust that they truly are supported (and sadly of course, many are not), loved without needing to add one more thing.

But if this lasts long enough, perhaps some of that dust will settle, and we will truly enter Slow Time. The Slow time of our ancestors. And Small Time, finding our connections in the immediate intimacies of daily life.  And Self Time, relying on our own inner resources for hope, strength, peace, and quiet. (Note to self- trusting that others can rely on their own inner resources too)

Yesterday, I became aware of my own busy-making, the covering over of my own tender fears and vulnerabilities. It hit me like a thunderbolt of awareness. ‘Nailed it’, as they say. I’ve been writing a lot these last days of the ways that my heart is seeing so much, feeling so much, the way it has been breaking open—hopefully in order to hold it all more generously and compassionately. I’ve been writing to you about this desire that has been driving me to help in some way. (How can I sit by, when my fellow human beings are suffering?!) I’ve been writing to you about the counterbalance I have been seeking for that energy, searching for the heart of Julian in all of this (How did she hold in her heart all that she saw from the window?) I have been reaching out to all of my loves—the net is so wide I have realized.

Of course, you also know how I have struggled for so long with my sense of feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of being enough to those whom I love, when of course I cannot.  This is not a new dis-ease in me, but this is being re-vealed in me, laid bare by the stress of this time, for me to look at more clearly.

 I have been scanning my environment forever it seems, checking in on the state of those whom I love, checking in to be certain they are ok, feeling their sorrows and fears as my own, feeling their anger, of course, too. My own anxiety is relieved only when those whom I love are at ease… and at ease with me. Anger, in particular, fills me with fear. I take another’s anger, even if they are simply venting their own frustration about something that has nothing to do with me, personally, and desperately strive to diffuse it.  Putting out fires everywhere, a counselor 20 years ago, suggested.

Yes, those boundaries between myself and the other are blurry. I suspect that a small(?) part of the reason that I feel so relieved and freed when I go on a wilderness journey is that the physical distance creates that boundary for me and I am released momentarily of that which I feel and carry with me always. The discomfort.t I feel upon reentering afterwards is guilt for having allowed such a space for me, ( so selfish!!) and overwhelms me with the need for recompense, when what I truly long for is simply to reconnect with those I love

And so it is exceedlingly difficult, feels utterly selfish, to just sit here and do nothing when persons are suffering around me. Hypervigilance is learned, I expect, and so I can also practice unlearning it.

“I learned early on that I must be who others want me to be in order to be loved, so it’s important to see negative emotions like anger and sadness before they are overt, to pick up on someone’s energy in order to intervene or change tact to keep things pleasant. “

This experience is giving me ample practice sitting with my OWN anxiety–about the intensity of the other’s fear, sadness, suffering and anger, which I can feel (sometimes quite strongly) and can hold but, in reality, cannot take away from them. It is giving me practice making choices for myself without feeling guilt or shame. (and even saying that feels so indulgent, as if another person’s suffering is a source of practice for me!)

Oh yes, the moment of ‘nailed it!’ (I almost forgot) Yesterday, I opened my Enneagram thought for the day, curated for my type, which is motivated  by the need for harmony. It read simply this,

What would it be like if you spent your energy only on yourself today? Would you lose all your friends and connections?”

Sharing that thought with a friend, his response “Take good care of yourself today. You don’t need to worry about this friend going anywhere.’, brought tears of sudden awareness. That is the primal fear, of course, of being abandoned, unloved.

Of course, this time of stripping away those veneers (which we are discovering are more fragile than we imagined them to be) is also revealing/redeeming our gifts, many of which are inverse expressions of those very same vulnerabilities. The flip side of my wound is empathy. Empathy is a very good thing, a powerful force of Love. I do not want to repress that, of course. Empathy is a source and a sign of bonding, a means of support, a balm for healing, a vital aspect of a resilient relationships, and fosters true acts of compassion.

But I am being asked to very literally to take care of myself (to be ‘selfish), to restrain myself from ‘helping’ others for whom I feel so much empathy, to feel what I feel and to not act ( to hold the FEELING alone), to trust that another will survive without me, to trust that I also am deserving of protection and love. I am being invited/forced to strip away all the ‘doing’ that I engage in to make sure I am safe, to make sure I am loved (to make sure You are safe too, for the loss of you, my suffering one, is a loss that feels too great to bear.)

Maybe this is not perhaps so much a dismantling to the base of that pyramid as it is a stripping of veneer, a removal of impurities that have tarnished who we are. This really is the perfect crucible to burn away that dross, and reveal the gold that lies beneath.

I just can’t imagine what that jewel of compassion will look like. Perhaps this will teach us all how to be.

a crown of thorns/ a basketful of flowers*

Dear one,

There are moments throughout these days when such sadness rises up in me that I have to leave what I am doing and go sit down with it. It seemingly comes on suddenly, the feeling rising from my heart, but  if I pay attention I can usually trace it’s source. It might be an image of bodies in bags that I saw 30 minutes ago on the news. Or a phone call with my daughter. Or a harsh word from a stressed loved one. Or the sadness of a friend.

This morning, it was vegetables. And soil. And the physical intimacy of growing things.  I was looking up information on a small local farm, whose young couple are offering to drop off boxes on doorsteps, in lieu of setting up their stand in the market. Drinking in the photos of their organic garden plots, their boxes full of color and texture, I could almost smell the soil. You know what they say about the sense of smell, how it brings with it memory. And so, my body was immediately brought back to the visceral experience of tending a garden, the way it helped me through difficult times, like some primordial embodied prayer.

Digging.— for the root of the matter

Sowing,— dreams of a different way

Thinning— seedlings of dreams that were not mine to grow

Supporting/protecting — the fragile, the predated

Weeding — (often more angrily) that which was threatening, hurting,

Watering.— pouring myself out

Tending.— my heart

 Perhaps the morning’s feeling was merely/mostly this last one , the longing to tend something, at this time when I am feeling so restricted from physically doing so. Or perhaps it is the hope that a garden represents — food for tomorrow. Perhaps it is more simply the quiet belonging with and to the earth that I am reaching for, when I fear the holy place, my Algonquin, where I have known such healing intimacy with Her, is slipping from my fingers.

Anticipatory grief, my friend suggested.

Perhaps it is merely the simplicity of physical tasks, the need to get out of my head and into my body, to work the trauma of these days through it, from it. That is also the gift that Algonquin has brought through these years, after all. A place to simply be, to disconnect and to re-member.

Of course, there are stretches where I feel at peace too. Oh yes, something has most certainly settled in me, descended from head to heart. Those restless days of that first week, where my mind was so swirling that it couldn’t sit still are passed. Now I am able to pay closer attention, to feel all that is within me— the sorrow and the hope (more sorrow, at present), the worry and the wisdom. I have not experienced panic, but I have experienced sobering grief. And I also have known that all will be well.

Jack helped me a bit this morning, reminded me how to steady my heart, to ease its fluctuations, or at least to hold them within its vastness; reminded me how to dive into its deeper wisdom, its courage , and its hope; reminded me that my heart also contains the strength and the love of my ancestors, who survived great eras of difficulty. That strength, that wisdom, that courage, that love is within me too. 

My heart can embrace it all.

Jack told the story, which Thich Nhat Hanh has shared, about the Vietnamese refugees on the boat. How it was that, when confronted by pirates or storm, if everyone panicked all would be lost, but if just one person remained steady and calm it was enough. That steadiness showed the way for everybody to survive. He reminded me that I too can be that One on the boat. Even as I can hold the collective anxieties and fears, the confusion and sadness, which I see and feel, so can I hold hope and love and peace.

This perhaps is the way I can help (as you know, I have been feeling so utterly helpless) by remembering this. That I am stronger than I think. That my heart is more capable than I believe. That my people need someone that can hold them; perhaps this is the way that Julian eased hers.

Going out to donate blood this morning also helped. There was something about leaving my house (going out from my self), driving down out of my little village into the valley below, into that bright dome the sky (into the light) and then literally pouring out my blood for the sake of another. I prayed that someone might be healed by this pouring out of my heart.

I came home exhausted. I was told to rest and to eat. A lesson for me- after pouring oneself out take time to rest, to nourish.

A phone call with a friend in Canada. How has it been just a month since we were together. It feels like the world has turned over 30 times since those precious days. A group conversation with my ‘sisters’ this evening. Such a full spectrum of humanity, shared. So much fullness. So little time. Later, a text from a dear friend who had needed to contact Crisis Intervention for her child. Another phone call from my daughter…

All of these

Life-giving. Heart-breaking. In the same breath.

Time to rest.

*title refers to this poem, written in 2007, around my first reading of Etty Hillesum, at a retreat, when the I repeatedly saw the painting on the wall at the periphery of my vision as a crown of thorns, when it was in ‘reality’ a basket full of flowers.

A crown of thorns, a basketful of flowers

Oh you wounded God,

You come to me

with your yearning

            to be seen as beauty

with your longing

            to be held

just as you come

in your contorted face

in your scarred and twisted body

you can no longer hide

i see you

your crown of thorns, a basketful of flowers

my glands producing tears and milk, the same

this copious flow of blood,

concurrent dying, birthing

sacred and profane

these drops of pain, compassion

which your hungry mouth now opens to receive

from this, my breaking open heart,

a womb

to receive your penetration

oh

i tremble

at the terror of this tender touch

as i open wider to receive

the whole of you

and stretch to deliver you

in this pregnant moment

full of pain and joy

time for etty?

I am find myself needing to squash the passion of Etty in me, this yearning in me to stomp down to Westerbork Camp and be a balm to my people, the ones who are facing these traumas, to be hands of compassion, knowing that even as I do so I am putting myself at risk. She could have hidden away, after all. I am not afraid for myself.

And yet to do so, I put many more at risk perhaps than I help. This is the utter helplessness that I feel. It is an existential paradox for me.

So, this is perhaps not the time to turn to the heroics of Etty. Though her wisdom that Beauty is present, that God is present, that Love is present within and alongside ugliness and suffering and horror is a much needed balm, the pouring of herself into the midst of her people’s suffering is not wise. A more submissive (as in surrender one’s will for the sake of the other?) role is required.

And so, I turn to Julian of Norwich, with her window on the world, to learn from her how I can Be in this time. My window perhaps is this laptop screen, where the suffering and fear of the world pass before my heartbroken eyes. I need her wisdom this day. I need to know how it was that she kept herself walled up. How she offered hope and extended compassion at that window to the world. As the plague passed by her window, evidently multiple times, she watched and prayed and heard that all shall be well…

It just doesn’t feel like enough. 

embracing our vulnerability

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousnes.

Give me your hand.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Dear Ones,

In this ever changing landscape, this is what I see today.

Down there, in the valley where I stood yesterday, I see my own feelings of helplessness, bundled up in my longing to DO something to help ease the suffering I see all around me, feeling chilled by the thought of just standing by, watching it all unfold without a thing I could actively do to help, but to stay in place. Perhaps this is what spectator guilt feels like.

Over there, on that ridgetop I see persons, feeling equally helpless, crying out, “What have we done to deserve this?”, shaking their fists at the heavens, their anger buffering their own broken hearts. They perhaps climbed up there to find safe footing, for when things fall apart the very ground beneath our feet feels frighteningly unstable. The earth shifts and we react from our fear, seeking out all sorts of high places.

In that village below, I see folks who clambered up onto their rooftops in the middle of the night, stunned and in shock. Waking up this morning, their eyes filling up with the destruction around them, they are beginning to fill up their heads with blame, seeking reasons for the suffering they have experienced. ‘How did this happen? What could we have done to prevent this?’ is their own sort of expression of raw helplessness. They have already begun hurling their stones from up there. “If only…. then this would not have happened”!

This is our understandable human response to trauma. When something beyond our ability to control, happens “to” us, we look for fault(s) (sometimes in ourselves) hoping to find some way to prevent the uncontrollable from happening again, the horror from revisiting our doorsteps. In this way, we are relieved from feeling the full brunt of our vulnerability, for it is terrifying to accept the idea that we are truly powerless, to believe that the only thing ever within our own contol is our response (and sometimes even that feels impossible!)

“But This did not have to happen!”, they scream. Although maybe it did. And maybe there is nothing at all we could have done to prevent it. Maybe, just maybe, we cannot control the earth like we thought that we could. Take the human out of the equation, if that helps, my friends. Call it a natural disaster, if you will. A biological one. Does that help just a little to stop blaming ourselves and our fellow human beings?

Yes, there are things we got wrong. But we also cannot control the fallibility of humanity. We mess up. We falter. We fail. We are imperfect. We are blind. We learn. We grow.

We forgive and we Love.

Blame is a natural stage of grief, and much that is precious has been lost for all of us — human life, trust, security, naivete, identity, to name just a few. Anger, blame, denial (running away), and even the settling down into sadness are all ways we seek solid ground in response to trauma or tragedy, when the earth is trembling beneath our feet, when the winds are uprooting our homes, when waters are washing them away, when wars are ravaging lives, when death steals our dreams, when horrors fill our eyes, when love breaks our heart, when hope disappoints.

How can we possibly let ourselves simply feel the heartbreak of this, our shared vulnerability? How can we surrender to the reality that to be human is to be broken (and hopefully broken open), so that the energy we use in resisting and railing against one another can be redirected to coming together, to sharing our mutual grief, to holding our tender humanity, to doing whatever we can to heal, even to encouraging and celebrating the goodnesses we see – the ingenuity, the remarkable responses of caring, the human stories of resilience and compassion, the love songs of our neighbor.

We are stronger together. Bonding together will help us all to feel a little less vulnerable.

I wish that you all could see me as I see you. I’m just over here, waving my arms, singing my lovesong, on the top of this hill, on the other side of this screen.

You see, I need you too. I need the energy of your passion, as you perhaps need the energy of my compassion. I need your call to action as you perhaps need my call to prayer. I need your head as much as you need my heart. I need your plans as much as you need my vision. I need your practicality as much as you need my imagination. We need the whole of humanity to make ourselves whole again. The songmaker. The planner. The builder. The challenger. The peacemaker. The artist. The helper. The researcher. The mathematician. The Poet. The priest. The healer. The seeker of justice. The seer of beauty.

Wont’ you join me?

PS. Who knows what horror or joys the morrow will bring. Perhaps I’ll need you to hold me up. Or to come down into the shadows with you. Perhaps I will be in despair and will as desparately need your light. Perhaps you will show me the way. Each day seems to bring some new revelation of beauty, or transport us into some unexpected terrain of sorrow.

May we welcome each other in all of our humanity, the strong and the weak, the frightened and the courageous, the sorrowful and the joyous, the deeply discouraged and the hopeful . May we welcome, as Rumi once said, it/us all into this Guesthouse of being Human.



this is hard. i feel it too.

Dear One,

It is day 21, I think, if I look back to the day that the governor first began shutting down the state, first schools, then businesses, then counties. We are all of us isolated from one another now, and oddly more connected than ever. It is a strange time, separating ourselves in order to save ourselves. Loving our neighbors by keeping our distance from them. When every instinct in our human species is to bond more tightly together during times of danger, we keep safe instead by drawing apart. This is not about self-preservation – there will always be those who hide and shelter in place in order to save themselves — but this for the sake of the other. It is a strange time.

My rational head understands this- the exponential charts, the biology of contagion, the economy of services and supplies. My soul, my humanity, my emotional being, the ancient wisdom embodied in my cells- however you want to name it — has more difficulty wrapping itself around this. And I must deny that particular wisdom in order to quell my urge to wrap myself around my fellow human in some physical way. To come together physically, to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of the other. And yet, I know (in my head) that to put myself in harm’s way in this case could also be to the detriment of many.

It is a paradox unlike any other. An existential crisis unfathomable.

Perhaps this lies at the seat of my sadness this morning. The sadness swept over me like a wave this morning, hitting me so suddenly that I had to come sit, put my head back, rest. Listen.

What is it?

It probably didn’t help that I stayed up late last night, scouring the local hospital’s website to see if there were volunteer opportunities or even temporary service type jobs — cleaning, laundry services, clerical- for when the surge hits our area– like a wave.

(Perhaps those charts all over the news media– of waves rising and falling, inundating and retreating- are fresh in me this morning)

I thought, perhaps I could help build the hospital pods, Certainly there will be bodies needed for that– though the military seems to have that in hand, and signing onto that boat passed me by. I find myself kicking myself that I hadn’t finished one single thing in my life that would make me useful– the RN program I left when my last child was born, for instance. Why didn’t I at least get the nursing assistant certification that I easily could’ve taken with my semesters of academic and clinical experience? Why did I never follow up on those urges to Midwife training? Something! I called the blood bank- I’d worked there once- perhaps they could use a helping hand.

I will give blood.

I want to BE of service. Instead I will just have to BE.

And that calls into question the existential nature of my being. What does it mean to be human? Embodied? Do I really trust in the unseen, the unknown, in a Power greater than 1 ? Do I really believe that Love is enough? That I can tap into that communion of Love – taking both nurture from it and contributing to it. That this is enough to hold this crumbling world together.

I expect this is some psychological response to trauma. I think I recall reading once upon a time during the aftermath of some natural disaster (is this what this is– ‘natural’ disaster?) that giving persons something to do to helped somehow with PTSD. It may have been something about moving the trauma out of the body so that it doesn’t lodge there. Something along those lines. I’m not going to look it up now, but I do believe there is something quite human in my distress, quite communal – this feeling of helplessness, of being asked to hold still, like being physically held down.

And I feel guilty even sharing such thoughts with the world. It feels selfish,-as if its about me. I feel like I should share instead words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of hope or peace. Something calming, something wise. To be the one to hold onto the vision that this too will pass. That goodness will come from this trial– as my soul knows it will. That all will be well- as my sister Julian has so often whispered to me, she who lived through several waves of the Plague ravishing her world, while enclosed in her recluse cell with her window on the suffering outside those walls. To be the midwife, able to see what those in pain cannot possibly from their vantage point, that birth is imminent after this pain passes, after this dark passage through this constricting space, that light and new life will be ours. That Love will bond us together.

Yes, my head know those things too. Perhaps even my deeper wisdom. But this space in between those two, where both my heart and my body reside, feels only the despair of helplessness.

Helplessness. Not hopelessness. This is a vital distinction, I hear. (Yes, I hear you, my soul.) For it is not lack of Hope here at all. I do trust in Love. I do trust that we are a part of a bigger story here – a human story, an earth story, a universal story, a Love story. This is but one page. One page that will turn over its leaf into the next, the gifts of which we cannot yet know, but can trust. The ancient wisdom in me knows this much is true. The indwelling Love in me — perhaps the same one that breaks my heart with compassion during these immediate days- also assures me that Love is all that there is– to do AND to BE.

And so, I will risk sharing these words too. Not to bring despair, I pray, but to express Love. Communion. Compassion (suffering with). For I suspect there are others like me, their hearts breaking, the goodness in them seeking outlet, feeling helpless in their confinement, as if straightjacketed. I can say to them, yes, I feel that too.

You are not alone. You and I are in solidarity in this, in these feelings of restraint- the double entendre of that word poignant.

Perhaps that is at least as necessary as any words of positive encouragement, peace, or calming blessings, can offer.

This is hard. I feel that too.

Be still. My heart.

good and tired

“Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness….we should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds” Etty Hillesum

It was a long day today. I was up well before dawn and it is not almost 10, and I am just now sitting down here again.

Mostly I spent the day in the kitchen, drying and preparing meal packets. I’d purchased the ingredients some time ago, intending to prep for a dreamed-of 3 week wilderness journey this fall with Don. Whether that can happen now lies within the uncertainty of all of our days.

And it feels so trivial. I found the work today tedious, an unwelcome distraction, where often I have found it filled with creative joy for what it represents. Perhaps those dehydrated meals will be useful in some way if grocery runs become more restricted. However, there have been assurances that the food chain is healthy and intact and that going out for essentials will be allowed no matter. So, the work felt rather meaningless.

The subject of food brings me to the real reason for my fatigue. My daughter took herself to the food pantry this afternoon. It was so difficult for her to do, mostly because a friend shamed her for doing so (I think my daughter had accepted before that phone conversation that her loss of income was through no fault of her own, as businesses are being required to close by the government, and that the offer of food assistance was acceptable and authentic). There is such stigma around receiving help in our culture. It saddens me that giving and receiving compassionate care is considered disgraceful.

And so she cried. And so I held. And so she turned back, afraid. And so I cleared a path. And so I ‘walked’ with her. And so it rained. And so she received. And so she carried a chicken, a cabbage, cans and carrots, the box heavy and damp. And so she locked the door behind her.

And in the scarcity of work, even the yogi’s are competing. Still believing their worth is in capital, that both need and worthiness are scarce. The ‘airwaves’ (is that what you call it?) are overflowing with offerings, some authentic gifts, others screaming, ‘please see me’ (and in truth is that not also an authentic need?)

And she was finally standing on her own feet, ready to take off. Financially stable. Emotionally well. Seeing her life as possibility rather than failure.

She is but one story of heartbreak.

And she will survive.

Today I noticed the way that stress reveals unhealed wounds in human beings. Wounds like unlovability. unworthiness. not-enoughness, and more basic than that – fears of survival. Today I understood why there are wars over resources.

Today, I learned that the young man for whom we all had been praying did not have the virus. We all breathed a sigh of relief because his story had scared us all into thinking our sons and daughters might appear to be fine at lunchtime and on End Of Life care by dinner. As if our compassion was misplaced, I found myself apologizing to those with whom I’d shared the story, for unnecessarily frightening them. As if that was the only reason we all were praying for his recovery, or holding his terrified family, or encircling them in our prayers.

And so, I noticed my own vulnerabilities that were uncovered by the stress of it all, my own fears of being shamed. ( That childhood rhyme about sticks and stones isn’t really true.)

Mayor Cuomo reminded us all today that our greatest vulnerabilities are also our greatest strengths.

Said another way, our wounds are the root of our compassion. Being willing to expose them from time to time perhaps brings healing.

We are good.

And I am still tired.

Good night.

you too will find your way

Inside you are a thousand generations of your ancestors, who learned how to survive difficulties . Do not be afraid. You too will find your way. –

Jack Kornfield

My dear child of my children’s children’s children….

Here I sit again, predawn this time, seeking stillness in the midst of this storm, stillness enough to hear, let alone to jot down my feelings, my thoughts for you.

It is early in the morning, still dark outside my window, the only light coming from the lamp, one casting a soft glow over my shoulder. Music flows from the speaker, Gregorian chants, equally soft and glowing.

I dance around the opening of this doorway, uncertain what it is that holds me back at the threshold, keeping me from fully entering. Is it merely a difficulty in settling my dancing mind, in quieting my spirit, or is there perhaps something that else that holds me back. Certainly permission has been given to be still (‘shelter in place’ are the official words being used by government representatives as they plead with us) Perhaps it is the unknown that keeps my feet planted firmly on this side of that door, cracking it just a bit from time to time to peer into that darkness.

We do not know.

We do not know how long this pandemic will rage through us until it has spent itself. How many it will take into that darkness (or is it light?) with it. We do not know how long it will be that those of us who have not yet been exposed will need to be afraid of exposure, afraid for our own mortality, yes, but also, perhaps moreso, of inadvertently (because this thing is so hidden for so many of us) causing another’s demise. How long we must hold back, like the frightened huddling bird in the old Disney movie, Bambi, whose anxious inability to hold still causes it to fly into the hunter’s aim. How long until the scientific, medical, and govermental agencies can get a handle on this, prepare us for the onslaught of patients who will not be able to breathe. How long until there is a vaccine or a treatment or a cure… or a test available to the masses so that each of us can know whether we have been exposed, and so perhaps carry the antibodies that might be used for healing another, and freedom for ourselves. Freedom to help.

The randomness of this virus- in whom it progresses suddenly into urgent, life-threatening respiratory distress and for whom it is symptomless- adds to the swirling fear, like a hidden stalker. We humans are afraid of what we cannot see. Monsters under the bed loom large, even for adults. We are humbled by it, reminded of our vulnerability, and (blessedly) our humanity.

I have been coughing for almost 2 months now, since long before this virus was supposed to have reached our shores. I was sicker at its onset, with fever and chest tightness, than I have been as an adult. Could I have had it and so be safe now? Safe to help. Or, should I fear, because of the way that possibly lesser virus (flu?) hit me, that being hit with another respiratory virus would be all the more dangerous for me?

How our lives will look when this is over is another unknown. Will it be safe for me to venture into the backcountry again, miles and miles from medical help with a virus circulating that could make me suddenly critically ill without warning, in severe respiratory distress? Everyone has their own version of this – When will we feel safe again?

The desire in me to help is so strong. I have begun a neighborhood chain, so that each of us is not making too many short trips for incidentals forgotten or needed. That feels so small. I want to volunteer in the hospitals in some capacity. I want to help distribute food to persons suddenly in need. But it is one thing to put myself at risk, a choice I feel willing to make for myself, but I do not live alone and I come in contact with others who are vulnerable. The helplessness is insidious. We are being asked to ‘help’ by staying away. To just sit and watch, doing nothing. Tomorrow I will go to donate blood.

And perhaps that is why it has been so exceedlingly difficult to be still. My compassion will not allow it.

I worry about my daughter, isolated and alone in an apartment in Chicago, a large city that is more likely to be hit hard….

Okay, my dear one, it has been over an hour since I wrote that last sentence, because that statement brought me up out of myself and into compassion for her, into wanting to reach out and touch. I have spent the last hour connecting with all of my children, sharing my heart space, checking in on theirs, wanting to hold them, wanting to hold them together.

And that is the way that it goes.

And when fear comes to the door bringing flowers
acting as if it’s a friend,
it’s okay to not want to let it in.
It’s okay to lock the door—
it’ll make you feel as if you’re doing something.
Fear will enter anyway.
At least it won’t expect a hug.
It won’t wash its hands,
not even when you ask nicely.
And it is more contagious than any virus—
spreads without sneezes or coughs.
It won’t leave when you ask, but
there are ways to make it quieter—
like inviting a few others to join you,
preferably gratitude, compassion, love,
kindness, vulnerability. These friends
always come when asked, wearing
the loveliest perfume. They change
the conversation, the way lemon
and honey change the bitter tea.
They remind you who you are,
invite you to look out the window
and see how beautiful the world
when the shadows are long.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

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