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.
On the morning of Friday, Feb 21, I was lying on a beach chair in the sun, steps from the Caribbean sea, drying out from a swim in the warm salty water, thinking this was paradise. On the morning of Saturday, Feb 22, I was blearily walking in the cemetery with the other TPW’s in the cold but sunny Toronto weather, thinking about (among other things) how many different ways of walking there are. There is walking in hiking boots up and down (and sometimes through) very challenging, tropical terrain, or walking deliciously barefoot on warm soft beach sand as the surf gently splashes one’s toes, or walking gingerly in running shoes over patches of ice or snow through Mount Pleasant cemetery. Variety is the spice of life, I say, so as much as I was regretful to leave the warm bright sun of the West Indies (a place I highly recommend visiting in the middle of winter), I am so grateful to be home once again with my TPW friends walking in whatever weather conditions our beautiful country of Canada gives us.
I must confess; I did not walk on Saturday morning. I was already dubious about it when I saw the weather forecast the evening before and my doubt was confirmed at 7:00 am when I stepped out of my house for a brief weather check. I beat a hasty retreat. I was definitely not going to deliberately walk outside in cold, dripping winter rain! I wasn’t always this way; I used to love being out in the rain when I was younger, puddle jumping, rescuing sidewalk worms, listening to the rain as it fell around me, and smelling that wet and earthy air. My world was being washed clean and all would be bright and green afterwards.
Well, that all changed after I participated in a three hour race held during a torrential rain storm. You know the kind, when it feels like buckets of water are being poured on your head. For Three Hours Non Stop…It took a week for my running shoes to completely dry and I have never felt kindly about being out in the rain ever since. And at least that had been warm rain but on Saturday? That was cold winter rain! I would much rather have snow.
So I did what any self-respecting rain phobic person does; I retreated to my bed with coffee and newspaper in hand. I salute the courageous ones who ventured out regardless, clearly you are made of sterner stuff (perhaps waterproof?) than I am. Your fair weather friend will see you again when it stops raining.
P.S. Kudos to the brave souls who braved the deluge.
We were, I thought, a surprisingly large group of walkers on Saturday given that we are in the middle of the holidays and people have every excuse to indulge in the art of sleeping in. However, there were the keeners who arrived at 7:30 am and the rest of us (we the sloths?) who arrived at 8:30 am, all joining together to walk around the cemetery on a warmish (certainly for December) but overcast day. It was so good to see so many familiar faces (and some new ones) and to be able to wish everyone well, including our man of the bicycle accident. Furthermore, some courageous souls race walked in the Resolution Run on Sunday morning, bless them. I, dear reader, remained in my bed, warm and dry.
As we parted on Saturday morning, a chorus of “See you next year” was heard and so we have come to the end of 2019 and our last Saturday walk of the year. Endings are always bittersweet, it’s been quite a tumultuous year, containing both joy and grief and we look forward to beginning a new one. I hope that 2020 will be a kind year to each and every one of us.
Happy New Year everyone!
I was shopping for a birthday card for an old high school friend of mine and saw it in a craft store window. An artist had drawn a very happy looking glass of red wine beside a very happy looking chunk of cheese and underneath them were written the words “Aged to Perfection!” It was the perfect card for my wine and cheese loving friend and, I like to think, a perfect one for we older generation who are lucky enough to be alive today. But it also reminded me of how old I am now and how many of my loved ones are no longer with me. My parents are gone, my brother and sister-in-law are gone and my husband is gone. I know I am not alone in this reality, others among us are suffering heartbreaking losses of their own. How does one have the spirit to keep going on?
Letting go is a very, very hard thing to do (and I had help in learning how from a very wise grief therapist who had a decidedly Buddhist tinge) and so very slowly over time I had to learn to let go of those I loved. And now, battered and bruised by life as I am at this age, I am still standing, and more importantly, still walking with my TPW friends to the finish line wherever that may be. I hope we will all be so fortunate to age to perfection as we walk there together.