When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, the world outside my door was glistening wet and grey. When I woke up on Christmas morning, everywhere I looked was laden with luminous white snow draped over bushes and trees, houses and sidewalks; it was such a picture perfect day. The next morning, Boxing Day, we were a small group of seven that gathered at the cemetery gates. Hardy winter souls ready to enjoy the fresh cool air, the sound of the snow crunching under our feet, the quiet calm of the cemetery on a winter’s morning and most importantly for me, each other’s company.
I took deep breaths of air as I walked, thinking of the pandemic and how we’re still not through the worst of it. A while ago I heard an Indigenous Elder speak of Covid19 as a message from our planet, our beautiful and precious home. I hope we are learning to hear that message and to reconsider what we hold as valuable in our society. The most painful lessons often turn out to be the most instructive. As Winston Churchill once said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So, warrior walkers, let’s kick 2020 to the curb and walk with each other, one footstep at a time, into that brave new year.
The news is not good; the second wave of infection is well and truly upon us. We’re in another lockdown and I am very, very grumpy about it. Pessimism abounds (I recently found a definition for pessimists that claims they are the happiest people on earth because: 1. their dire predictions have proven correct, which means they were right, or 2. their dire predictions have proven wrong, in which case things were better than they thought!)
In a time of such misery, I think of words written by Susan Sontag: “Do Not Suffer Future Pain”. Each of us has quite enough to deal with in the present moment without projecting horrors from the uncertain future. We don’t know what awaits us as we face the unknown; things could be good, things could be bad, they could be in-between. Most likely it will be a combination of all three. So I try not to suffer future pain as there will be time enough for that, if and when it arrives.
And so I have decided that I must have some fun (safely, of course) to help me get through these winter months – perhaps skating parties with hot chocolate, or walks with my friends on frosty mornings , or a snowshoeing adventure in a provincial park , maybe lots (and lots!) of sweet treats with tea and good books, and staying connected to the world in every way possible… or thinking up surprises that make others happy (and me feel good)- like sending flowers to a friend, or giving an extra big tip in a coffee shop, donating to a worthy cause or just plain helping out.
Here is a little poem written by Roger McGough called (very appropriately): SURVIVOR
“Every day, I think about dying.
About disease, starvation, violence, terrorism, war, the end of the world.
It helps keep my mind off things.”
I think I am feeling better already!
What a wonderful day we had last Saturday as we gathered together, for the first time in a long time, to walk in the ScotiaBank virtual race. Our teams met in front of the Hotel X at 8:30 in the morning but before we left for the waterfront starting point, the walker we were fundraising for spoke to us. It was so moving to hear her speak of what she has learned about her illness and for her to share that understanding with us. For her to find meaning in a terrible experience and educate us with information and knowledge. For us to know that the money we raised will go a small way to help scientists discover more about this little understood disease. It was such an inspiring and beautiful way to start the day.
As we began the race, some people walking east, others west, the weather was cool and rough with great gusts of wind blowing across the lake, sending white capped waves crashing across the breakwater, but it was warm in the sun and all the colours of fall swirled madly around us. Off we went, challenging each other to keep up the pace and warming up quickly. And afterwards, as walkers returned in twos and threes to our starting point, we joined each other sitting on the grass in the sunshine and enjoyed each other’s company in the aftermath of a race well done. Best of all (I say) were the delicious homemade treats and the friendship that we shared amongst each other – thank you all so much for that.
Did you notice how sweet and juicy the peaches were this year? They tended to be small but so intense. And the tomatoes? Plump and full of redness, just waiting to be sauced. (I have discovered an old Italian recipe in which sauce and pasta cook together in one pot. It’s genius!). And the corn that was sweet and crisp, dripping with buttery salt, and the newly ripened apples, so hard and shiny, delicious with cheese? And don’t forget the pears, my personal favourite, so soft they drip when you slice them open and let their fragrance spill out? I love this time of year best of all. It’s Autumn – the period from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice.
It’s the time when the trees begin to flame orange or yellow or red and the damp earth smells rich and complex with fallen leaves. Up high, the birds swirl together in dark clouds as they prepare to leave us and cooler air circulates at night, reminding me to get out my feather duvet so I can snuggle under its the warmth. Sweaters and gloves must be removed from their summer hiding places in order to withstand the crisp chill of morning air. Soup bubbles intensely as it simmers for hours on the kitchen stove. All our senses are engaged. We are in the lingering transition of summer to winter…
And I recall my all time favourite quote which is by Northrop Frye, that great Canadian literary figure; he once wrote: “Heaven is this earth, to the awakened imagination”. And so it is.
I am glad to be alive. I hope you are too.
Saturday, August 22
It was a beautiful morning in the cemetery Saturday, warm but not so much, with a gentle early morning sun and scattered raindrops dripping on us as we walked under the trees. I was very happy to walk with someone I haven’t spent much time with recently so it was a perfect opportunity to catch up as we strolled through the pretty grounds. It felt so good to be amongst friends amid the exchange of conversations and my spirit lifted.
I confess to feeling discouraged earlier in the week, because I was beginning to understand how long this “new normal” might go on. As an antidote, I have sworn off “doomscrolling” (how descriptive a word is that???), that constant stream of unhappy news, so that I can focus on happier things and lighten my mood. And so I offer the words of Satchel Paige, thinking how perfect they are for we TPWs at this time:
“Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. Go very light on vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful. Avoid running at all times. Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”
He also said: ” How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” That’s a very good question, don’t you think?!
That actually wasn’t a question for me because I DID sleep in on Saturday morning and therefore missed the, I am certain, lovely walk with the group in the cool morning air of the cemetery. I have no excuse other than it was lovely to lie in the stillness of early morning, uninterrupted and calm. Undisciplined definitely, but then that leaves lots of room for improvement, doesn’t it? Redemption shall be obtained next Saturday. And does anyone else experience stiffness in the joints first thing in the morning? What’s that about? Is this what aging means? I think of Leonard Cohen: “I ache in the places where I used to play”.
But I take consolation from a little book that I have called: “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese.” In which Fred Astaire says: “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.” And horse trainer Horatio Luro, explaining the secret of his eighty years says: ” Swim, dance a little, go to Paris every August, and live within walking distance of two hospitals.” Ann Landers said: “Inside every seventy-year old is a thirty-five year old asking: What happened?”
But my favourite so far is what financier Bernard Baruch said: “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” I can live by that one!
I hugged my daughter last weekend for the first time in three months. Actually, it was the first time I had hugged anyone in three months so it was a memorable and much missed occasion. As of today I have four people I can hug within my social circle – as opposed to the “social gathering” in which we cannot hug. I am discovering what my neighbourhood looks like as I cautiously emerge from my house cocoon as the provincial restrictions gradually loosen. I find good news: the French bakery (I have been!) and the gelato parlour (I have been!) have re-opened but there is also sad news: the lovely Italian restaurant on my street corner which has been operated by two generations for the past 60 years has not; they have closed permanently.
I am learning to balance risk with prudence and anxiety with reason as I venture out more often and further afield, modifying my behaviour in the hope of limiting viral spread while tentatively entering a much changed environment and living my life. I see many closed businesses and imagine the shattered dreams behind those brown paper window coverings.
I miss my walking friends and my life as it was before! I grieve for all the silenced artists and the theatre, ballet and symphony that I love so much and that were such a large part of my life. But I remain a defiant optimist and understand that unexpected disruption brings change and change brings growth; as painful as that is. And it will be up to us to make those changes good ones.
In the meantime, I look forward to exploring our strange new world and meeting you there for walks once again. One day, I am certain of it, we will even hug each other again. Bon courage!
(with apologies to Dostoevsky)
What was I thinking? Oh yes, I wonder what day it is? It’s so hard to keep track of now. I don’t think I knew what day it was yesterday either. No point looking at the calendar because it’s no help; if you don’t know what yesterday was then how can you possibly figure out today? It’s like needing to spell before looking for a word in the dictionary. I’ll check my phone. Oh, it’s a Saturday, that’s good. I have a Zoom call to look forward to. I’d better get ready. I wonder if I need a shower, I can’t remember the last time I had one – was it yesterday, or two days ago, or perhaps more? Oh dear, this social isolation thing is certainly wrecking my personal hygiene. On the other hand, if physical distancing can keep a virus away, it can certainly keep nasty odours away, right? Perfect; as long as I remain upwind from everyone else, it’s all good. No one will notice except maybe Sheba Get off The Table and she isn’t talking. And I must really be saving a lot of money on my water bill. Not to mention doing a lot less laundry, which means I don’t have to walk down the stairs to the basement because at this point getting back up them is a real challenge. It’s so useful to be able to wear the same pants every day and just change my top. I have a video chat this afternoon and I only need to be presentable from the waist up. Bonus. Now hair is another issue – it certainly hasn’t stopped growing. I am becoming more and more dependent on large amounts of hair gel just to keep it under control. If this goes on much longer I will need a machete. But otherwise from the waist up and neck down, I’m doing just fine! It’s just, I wonder what month this is?
(with apologies to Dostoevsky)
I opened my eyes and stretched in bed. ” What shall I do today, I wondered? Shall I wear my gray sweatpants or my pink ones? It’s so difficult to choose. I checked for the time on my clock radio and then remembered that I am on holiday and sleeping in the guest bedroom; what a lovely change that has been, so exciting! Tomorrow night it will be back to my usual bedroom. I really should get up and get some exercise I think, those two flights of stairs going down to the kitchen will be perfect. Goodness, it’s only 11 am, I wonder why I woke up so early? Time for breakfast. Where shall I eat my breakfast? At the kitchen table, or the dining room table, or maybe the TV room or even my office – just for a change? The kitchen table I think. The dining room table is covered with laundry to be sorted, the TV room has a stale popcorn smell and my office would need to be shovelled out first. All tasks waiting and ready for another day. Let’s see, what shall I eat for breakfast, perhaps some chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce? That would start the day nicely, though I did have that yesterday so maybe I should have something else just for nutritional variety. I have some cookies, they’d be nice with the caramel sauce, or perhaps even better, the brownies I made? Excellent; oh I can tell already it’s going to be another lovely day at home!”
P.S. My cat, Sheba (full name: Sheba Get Off The Table) has just told me to: “Suck it up, Buttercup! I have been inside this house for 8 years, 135 days, 7 hours and 13 minutes. But who’s counting?”
I didn’t walk with the group on Saturday morning; I am being abundantly cautious as my daughter is staying with me while she waits for her partner to clear self-isolation. They have three more days of separation before she can return to their apartment and I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize their reunion. What strange and difficult times we are in! And yet I think of my mother living in London during the blitz; enduring 56 days and nights of continuous bombing. Perhaps this pandemic will be the 21st century’s world war, only this time against an invisible adversary. We will be changed by this experience and the world will be a different place when our lives return to some semblance of normalcy. And return they will for I am an eternal optimist, I always have been. But to get from here, in the thick of uncertainty, to there, when we may reconnect with all that has meaning to us (like all of us walking together again!) , I am reminded of my first half marathon when I paced myself with another more experienced walker. At the 17km mark when I thought I couldn’t take another step she said to me, “this is when we have to dig deep”. So dig deep my friends and when we do, we will get to the finish line.
I like these words from a poem called The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield:
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.