Sacred Space

I repaired the vacuum cleaner. That’s something.

On the kitchen floor with a screwdriver and a spew of dirt, cat hair, and balsam needles from our last Christmas tree, I listened to my daughters washing the dishes and talking about little things — a song, a work schedule, a high school teacher.

It’s holy, I thought, this time is: all of this, every bit, a rare and holy time — even the hard and worrisome parts — so, so many of them. No matter what happens, though, we’ll always have this time as a family, the three of us, the texting and calling with my brother, the phone calls and emails with family. In an odd way, it’s as though my daughters are little, little again, and we’re back in isolated rural Vermont.

We now live in a village. My oldest daughter is all grown up, shouldering her weight of our world, and more. But, like darn near everyone else I know, this Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate has slowed our life down immeasurably. No flying out the door in the morning. No when are we meeting up for dinner?

So while it’s here, with its scary gravity, I’m reminded so often these days that the holiness of our days is both the dirt on my kitchen floor and my daughters’ laughter. Who knows where we’ll be next week — heck, who knows what news the governor will share tomorrow, or today — so this, now, this.

We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infintesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future.

— Alan Watts

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Gifts

A friend leaves a dozen eggs and a stick on our back porch. She instructs my daughter to put that stick in water.

Doubtfully, my daughter sets the unassuming brown branch in a glass of water on our kitchen table. Really? she asks me.

I tell her it’s a twig from a Daphne bush she’s walked by countless times. When it blooms in that water, you’ll be amazed. I promise her this.

Here’s Adrienne Rich’s poetry for the soul, forwarded from my father.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

 

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Who’s Walking

On a midafternoon walk to clear my head, I’m surprised to see so many people in the small neighborhood I pass through on my way to the woods. Generally, it’s just me and the same dog walkers — all a good twenty years older than me, sometimes singly, sometimes in chatty pairs. But couples and families are out — everyone keeping their distance — some folks walking dogs, some simply strolling in the sunlight.

In Vermont, we’re on a Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate — my polite state’s kinder and gentler version of crouch down and shelter-in-place. Later in the day, we hear Vermont schools won’t re-open this year. Even for those who don’t have a student, the message is crystalline: there’s no end in sight. The other side of this disease — for health, for our economy — lies in a chasm.

But we’re not living in a chasm.

Across the street — way more than six feet — strangers and I take our time and pointedly greet each other. Later, during a phone interview for work, I talk with a woman I’ve never met. Far outside of the article’s topic — the homeless in Vermont — we talk and talk, exchanging stories of our daughters, our early motherhood, of these uncertain times. Why not? I thank her profusely for the call, not an email, and we agree to meet in person…. in some future time.

The summer river.
It’s happy to walk across it.
My hands with zori sandal.

— Buson

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August, long ago

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Yes

In the grocery store checkout line — six feet at least apart from everyone — the man in front of me starts in on a rant about Boeing and the proposed bailout. I set down the gallon vinegar and my bag of purchases I’m sure our family utterly needs in a pandemic, like masa harina, and assure the stranger I’m with him.

In this utterly strange world — far apart but suddenly socially unleashed — I ask him question after question. A Vietnam Vet, he and his wife are sewing masks for medical workers. He raises a cardboard box of wire ties the grocery store donated to aid their efforts.

I don’t know if those masks will impede the virus or not. I’ll probably never see this stranger again, who lifted the box just before he left, while I cheered him on and thanked him.

Yes, it snowed nine inches in Vermont. Yes, we’re under a Stay Home order, the governor’s distinctively less-alarmist version of shelter-in-place with your arms over your head. Yes, the governor’s on the radio every day, assuring Vermonters we will endure. And, yes, this, too, will pass.

In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

Eleanor Roosevelt

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Heading Home

One week into virtual school, into complete telecommuting for work — save those phone calls. The world, however, is not virtual, but wholly real, even more connected.

Always awake and working first in our house, I fold my laptop shut while my daughter eats her breakfast. The cats brush up against our legs, savoring luxurious rubs beneath their chins. The felines are utterly, fully, radiantly happy.

On our walks — every day, sometimes repeatedly every day — we see people, although always at a distance. Here in my Vermont corner, the world isn’t heavily populated. There’s no one in Hardwick this evening, save for two women walking towards me, who prudently cross the street and then wave at me.

In this world we live in, these days, right now, I wave back. We holler good evening across the empty street.

Then I head home.

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Home: Wanderlust On Hold

Like I hope everyone else — I hope — we’re holing up for the long haul in our house, figuring out our world day by day, in utter suspension of any “normalizing” of life. What’s normalcy again? Something we’ll never return to — or so I imagine at this point.

In the evenings — some balmy like last night, or others spring-raw and wet — we go for walks. The open-ended time reminds me of being a young mother again. Days and nights with young children had frustrations and challenges, sure, but also the deep pleasures of those endless walks and wanders I took with my daughters, learning the names of wildflowers, splashing through streams.

When I pick up beef for our freezer from a friend’s farm, he stands on his deck while I’m at a distance. In a wind so cold I begin shivering, we talk and talk. He asks about my daughters — he always does — and I tell him how my older daughter had considered moving out this summer, but she’s offered to stay home now, for whatever the long haul might be, pooling our resources.

She’s smart, he says. Now’s the time for unity.

When I leave, driving carefully around his flock of snow-white geese and slowly along the mud-rutted back road, I turn off VPR in my little Toyota. There’s never any returning full circle in this life, never getting back to where you once were. But we’re still here, our little family, sometimes irritable at each other, sometimes joyous and laughing. It’s different world, an American dream utterly broken that my daughters will redefine for themselves.

And for these days, I hope wherever each of you are, you’re settled into your own version of social isolation, with the sky’s beauty around you.

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Hardwick, Vermont

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Home

These days I’ve discovered I’m phenomenally grateful for the state library listserv. An email sent with the subject line What’s happening in your town? opened a flurry of communication.

Librarians, like so many people, have an innate desire to please. Want a book? We’ll get it. Have a problem? We’ll solve it.

Innumerable emails have debated the merits of closing libraries, first, then of leaving books out. No one seems concerned about theft or loss. The concern is, obviously, disease. How can you leave free books on the library’s porch and not expect a few loyal (and likely elderly) patrons to shuffle through those? The library is a place of congregation and chat. How do we suddenly shut that down? Close our doors and ask you not to come? And yet, we are.  I read:

Our town library has been closed to the public for two days. Staff is now being sent home to ride out the storm.

Be well and we’ll see you soon.

We’ll leave the wi-fi on for you.
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Last night, walking in the dark around empty Hardwick, we wandered by the melting ice rink. Hardwick, VT, Day 4

 

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