“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
What will we do with this gift of grief? What will we do with gift of silence? What will we do with the return to simplicity, to the saving of leftovers and the reheating of yesterday’s dinner and the counting of the tomatoes and the toilet paper? What will we do with the skies that have cleared, and the animals that have returned? What will we do with this gift of cherishing deeply all that we took for granted? What will we do? What will we do with the taste of impermanence and fragility, the helplessness and the loss of agency and control? What will we do?
What will we do with the gift of clarity — of the surfacing of all that was hidden to those with privilege and all that was lived by those without? The absence of paid leave, universal healthcare, safe homes, stable work, loving families, access to education? What will we do with the realization that we are one and all are equal in the face of a virus that passes from each of us and fells us all in unpredictable ways? What will we do with the revelation that all we took for granted is illusionary, all the rules and the norms and the social contracts — dismantled and upended in days not years? What will we do with all the years we were told ‘it’s impossible’ for it to become possible in days?
What will we do with the gift of realization — the athletes can’t play, the actor can’t act, the singer can’t perform, locked at home while the grocery worker, the teacher, the healthcare worker, the garbage collector, the mail deliverer face the virus day in, day out. The hackers and the innovators and the entrepreneurs build masks from their sewing machines, 3D print ventilators government can’t find, open up code to connect communities. The definition of hero metamorphosizes in a day from those we held up high and paid higher, to those that are paid at the bottom of our social rung. What will we do with the inequity and the injustice and the revelation of years of erosion of social values that brought us here?
What will we do with our days? What I need becomes so simplified. I spend the afternoon planting seeds, carefully, into fresh moist earth. I water my plants and my herbs, and I feed the squirrels with seeds. I walk deserted streets, feeling the burning in my calves as I climb the hill, past silent homes with cars parked and lights dimmed. I fix my old vinyl player and start to work my way through the vinyl’s I was gifted by friends. One by one. Taking the time to listen, really listen. I trim down my last remaining bouquet of flowers to add days to the last flowers bloom. I take time. I observe. I notice. I watch. I listen.
What will we do with love? Who I love becomes so clear. In my dreams all my fears congregate at dawn, waking me with a clammy hand to my throat, pulling me down into the depths, leaving an acrid taste, leaving a sadness that lurks in my shadow all day. How I love — that too, becomes clear. I call, I help, I call again. I write, I send notes, give money, I send gifts. I forget, sometimes, to love myself. Or to let others do that too. I miss the physical hug, the presence in real life, I miss the dinner with friends, the summer nights dancing, I miss the picnic by the river with wasps.
What will we do with our lives? I am confronted with my own impermanence. For all my Buddhist leanings, it took this crisis for me to seek to find peace with leaving this mortal coil and reconciling with that near possibility. I find myself thinking about my kids most of all and their lives without me if I die. I find peace that they’re wiser and kinder and stronger than I could ever have hoped for, and that their lights will shine bright from here on in. But the truth is, I am not ready to leave and the thought of it floods me with existential agony. Is anyone, ever ready to leave? All those lost faces from Italy, every day. Filling my dreams with grief at the thought of unplanned departures in lonely ICU wards without families to hold or to bury you. I want to scream: I haven’t done everything I wanted to do. I haven’t made enough of an impact for good, I haven’t loved enough, I haven’t adventured enough, or read enough, or written that book, or painted that picture. When we emerge from this, will I do those things? Knowing now, the taste of finiteness?
What will we do with these gifts? I would not wish to live through this were I given a choice. I would wish it no-one. I am conscious, more so than ever, of my privilege. Of the privilege of not having toddlers to care for in the moment. Of not being in an abusive relationship in this moment. Of not worrying about money in this moment. Of being able to work from home. Of not being on the front line. Of not being in immediate danger. Of not worrying about food for now. Of having a safe home and space and a garden. Of having loved one’s I can talk to even if I can’t be with them. Of having a team that pulls me towards purpose and belonging.
Within that context of privilege, I hesitate but say this anyway: there are gifts within this crisis if you look hard enough. Gifts that raise questions we ought to have faced years ago. Gifts that point to what really makes a life — and what does not. Gifts that remind you of our collective impermanence, arrogance, destructive force. Gifts that remind you of all that is beautiful and good. Gifts that remind you of the meaning of love, of the kindness in the cracks of fragility and vulnerability, of the tears held in a phone call, of the humor and the joy to be found in the darkness.
What will we do with these gifts?
Hannah Ceri Jones
March 28, 2020