Driving along a prairie east west highway, see tawny hawks sit still and solemn on weathered wooden fence posts gazing out over the sun yellow canola fields bordered by green grass and blue sky. While crows hop on the edges of pot-hole ponds, and others soar on invisible cloudless slipstreams.
The linden tree we planted to replace the “sacred” grove of aspens, (those four slender white trunks and limbs finally reached their natural end) is now in full golden blossom, gives off that subtle, yet distinguishable sweet fragrance attracting big-bottomed bumblebees by the dozen.
This day I sit on the café patio of a favourite garden store. The masked hostess initially said there’d be an hour wait, then quickly waived it and me to the perfect table. Such kindness these days so easily brings me, touches me, moves me to tears. Thankful for sunglasses. I can see out. She can’t see in.
Creamy globes of hydrangea, some in pots, others topiary trees. Their petals flutter in a balmy breeze I’ve longed for ages to feel.
Piano muzak and signature water fountains, my aural companions. Another day of cloudless blue soothing warmth. Background melodies blur nearby conversations, but accentuate my silent solitude. Those familiar invite a slippery slope of remembering when
I was last here…lunch with friends, Winter cold. Swaddled in sweaters and down, toques, gloves and coats. Warm in the glow of time shared.
Floating down the river as a teenager with my girlfriends, or lounging on the air mattress in the cold quarry waters. Music blasting from the boom box above. Carefully passing the joint, we be jammin’.
My spoon glides through the layers of light whipped cream, denser coconut cream, then break though oven crisp pastry. My raison d’etre this favourite dessert.
Pachelbel’s canon whispers, evokes body memory to breathe slower, deeper. And then, like that golden dragonfly I watch my thoughts lift and land lightly
a friend who lost her husband to suicide another her brother won’t linger too long here, just enough for a steady pause and heartfelt prayer.
Finally a long awaited week of summer where the yellow circle weather icons make it possible to plan
a picnic, a patio visit, an alfresco dinner with friends, another day long road trip.
Slugs shrivel. Flowers flourish. Farmers’ crops and home gardens ripen, promising a bounty this week.Hallelujah! Cohen’s chords now proclaim. Bill received and paid. Thanks be given.
Last week’s spoken weariness persists. Now with another soupçon of sadness. I think of Rumi and his guest house, welcoming all these sensations and feelings as guides from beyond. I continue to practice the art of sitting in the void of uncertainty, in the tension of it all, of it all being true.
Too, I continue my participation in The Soul of a Pilgrim. It’s become a way to chronicle my reactions and response to the pandemic within the context of these eight practices. Last week, the fifth, the practice of being uncomfortable, particularly with being lost.
In the week’s online conversation, and in anticipation of how I’d create a scenario walking in my neighborhood where I’d feel lost, get lost, be lost, I posted this favourite poem, Lost, as a guide for me and others.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you.
David Wagoner, 1999
The evening I set out, was initially along the familiar route, with our Annie dog leading the way. With each step, I recalled those times I’ve been lost, or more significantly, worked to not get lost. With each step, I felt the discomfort of my body tightening, butterflies in my gut, my head straining to figure it out, find my way.
Travelling solo in Europe in my fifth decade. Late to the party, I never did the university gap year, backpack, Eurail pass thing. I finally made that long held dream come true, thanks to a deferred salary leave which allowed me to travel for three months. I remembered arriving in Venice at the beginning of Carnavale, disembarking from the train, stepping down onto the platform to catch a water ferry, and find my way to my apartment. Almost a decade ago, the borrowed cellphone didn’t work. Wifi was sketchy at best. But constant as a northern star, the kindness of strangers helped me arrive and make a quick email connection with my husband to let him know I’d arrived safely, the one and only during that leg of the trip.
I’d always considered myself poor with directions, but that trip, those three months, taught me otherwise. Perhaps I erred on the side of over-vigilance, but travelling alone, in low season winter and spring, when the days were short, I did what I needed to stay “found”, using my paper map, practicing walking routes to train stations to estimate time, asking for help, photographing landmarks to get me “home.” It was all about self-care, managing my anxiety, not getting too overwhelmed with the “bigness, muchness, fullness” of it all that was new, alluring, exciting, different. For me, travelling alone, getting lost would not add to the experience.
Those memories and visceral feelings walked with me and Annie as we approached the school playground. I was struck by the oddness, the “wrongness” of not seeing any children playing on the equipment, not seeing their parents watching them, on this sunny early evening. I felt lost in this pandemic scenario.
Even though Annie and I walked along different streets that evening, some, for all the years I’ve lived here, I’d never walked nor driven down before, the lost I felt was an interior one, grieving so much which is no longer, and wondering, will it ever be again.
This lost has weighed heavy these past days. Here in Canada, it’s our first long weekend of the summer. It’s been unseasonably cold across the country, with snow falling, oddly even, in more temperate locations. While it makes easier not getting together with friends for barbeques or going to the greenhouses for bedding plants, it’s not supposed to be this way. And yet it is.
Of among hundreds in this global online community, one woman responded to my writing with this lovely insight:
“I appreciate your reflection on the inner experience of ‘lostness’ – how brave of you to do Europe like that, ‘late to the party’ as you called it. And the irony that for all its challenges and your self-belief about your poor sense of direction you were not once lost. And yet something of this time and its strangeness in the midst of your familiar surroundings can induce the sense of lostness and one that ‘weighs heavy’. I find myself identifying with you, thank you Katharine.”
I felt seen. The lost that had weighed heavy became lighter with connection.
It’s been a good two months living in this history making Covid-19 time. Socially distanced. Compassionately retreated. Many of us are baking bread, Marie Kondo-ing our homes, cleaning our yards, walking, taking photos or organizing those we took, ordering take-out, reading, streaming movies, watching YouTube travel videos, zooming meetings, face-timing our family and friends.
We adapt. It’s one of our long and strong suits.
On the surface, life in and around our home is pretty much the same as it ever was. Quiet, with few interruptions except for a parcel delivery, and Annie “guard dogging” with her barks whenever anyone walks by, or rings the doorbell. Funny thing, she doesn’t differentiate if it’s the same person walking by. A neighbor has taken to walking circuits around the green space in our cul de sac. Every five minutes or so, there he goes past our house, and there she goes. We could set a timer with her barking.
And yet, truth be told, in the past week I’ve been feeling weary. Well yes, and weary. This cycle of growing daylight interrupts my sleep patterns. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my sleep mask under my pillow if not on my head. Several recent episodes of early morning insomnia in the past week, like right now, when I’ve been awake since two. Four hours sleep, and if I’m lucky, perhaps a couple more as the sun rises and the robins lullaby me into dreamtime.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996
But this is different. Last week, I listened to the news that Alberta’s honey production has been seriously impacted by the loss of 50,000 hives and how would they be replaced given pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. This became another proverbial straw this time broke on the back of knowing each day more and more of the pandemic’s pervasive personal and global impacts and implications. Using as metaphor from one of those travel YouTube videos I’d been watching, I feel like I’m on a train travelling through a mountain tunnel. It’s dark as pitch, and while I trust there will be a light at the end, I have no idea how wide the mountain we burrowing through, how long before I see light, nor will I recognize anything once through and on the other side?
Ever late to the party, last week I started walking Annie and listening to podcasts. I heard Krista Tippett from her OnBeing podcasts speak to the very real fatigue of virtually connecting. Calling it “zoomzaustion,” our heads and hearts feel good seeing and hearing each other on our devices, but our bodies miss the very real enlivening energy flow we give and get only when in the physical presence of others. These months of not being physically present with friends, unable to visit family are exacting a toll, even though I’m home in good loving company.
During the weekend we dined on take out. It’s our commitment to “live local with love” and support local chefs by once a week ordering in dinner. A mix up with the order meant I sat and waited in the empty but for chef and staff restaurant as our food was prepared. First time visit, I was struck by the attractive décor, the open kitchen, the hip music. Staff were pleasant, apologetic, offered me a glass of BC sparkling wine to pass the time. Food delivered, bill paid, goodbyes and well wishes exchanged, once home and chowing down, my husband and I both remarked on the heart and soul put into creating that space, making this food, serving their customers, realizing a vision; on the questionable future to sustain themselves under their current pivot business plan, as opening under the province’s re-entry plan, with 50% capacity and the required 2 metre distance between tables would ensure bankruptcy.
“The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now — in the very instant of groundlessness — is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, 1996
Today, I’d hoped to have a “safe distance” walk with my friend in celebration of her birthday. “Thick rain” meant we cancelled, for now. So I’ll make chile cheese cornbread muffins to go with the “beerbutt” chicken my husband will grill for supper. I’ll call a friend grieving the passing of her mother. Tomorrow, I’ll purchase a CSA from a local greenhouse. Then I’ll see my chiropractor for a long overdue tune-up. All of us masked and gloved.
This weariness ebbs and flows. I stay open to the vulnerable tenderness of this life.
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
Yesterday I woke early with my husband. Our patterns are different. He, the perennial night owl, typically rises later, giving me my cherished quiet hours, giving me delight in tending to Annie who is always eager for her breakfast, always entering the day in a great flourish. I love that about her, about him.
Yesterday the sun shone bright in the early morning sky, giving glisten to the fresh skiff of snow. The sky, that signature Alberta blue, void of cloud, full of invisible stars and moon now new holding quiet hope for its next waxing.
Read the story posted by a local nurse in one of our hospitals describing the toll on her and her colleagues working in these rigorous, strict, uncertain conditions. Describing grief, hers, theirs, their patients. A story no longer anonymous on the page or screen. It comes home, here and now.
Listen to “my” radio station (the one I helped raise from the ashes of mismanagement years ago) and note how each of the programmers carefully selects tunes to support the artists whose concerts and tours have been dashed, and to entertain and inspire us. I send a quick email to the morning programmer. His signature joy-filled voice and appreciative nature, always appreciated, are now an especially welcome start to my day. A quick station change to hear our national station has committed to several hours of daily programming exclusively featuring our Canadian artists. Each doing what they can to acknowledge, to support, to say thank you.
Drive along that well driven work route, usually busy with fellow commuters, now quiet, with only a city bus turning the corner on its well driven route, a city snow plough dusting off that night fall. Stopped at the lights, I mouth a “thank you” across the lane to the fellow driving the sidewalk sweeper.
Suddenly tears come fast, blurring my vision. I pull over to give myself over to it. The remarkable, poignant realization – again – that every one of us living on this precious planet is going through all of this together, alone together. The odd beauty in this odd symmetry of circumstance. The enormity of it all, simply gave way in the face of noticing on another blessedly brilliant blue sky sunny cold day. It pierced my already full heart and my tears came.
In these days of “compassionate retreat,” we wax and wane with the spectrum of emotions. We learn to welcome grief in all her variations – sorrow, fear, anxiety, doubt, cynicism, impatience, irritability, despair, numbness, denial – and know it’s all true.
We hold our hearts overflowing with compassion, wonder, healing and grace, and know it’s all true.
We notice moment by moment the small and large kindnesses of others, the gestures of care and concern, the abilities to stay connected, the beauty of another day, the laughter in a joke shared, the sacred sacrifices of every blessed person in every essential services across every community that keep us going. We know it’s all true.
And we know,
This is Holy Grief.
This is Holy Gratitude.
This is Holy Love.