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A New Rhythm

Over the past two years, life has developed a new rhythm. I didn’t choose to move into a new rhythm – the choice was made, and given to me, as it was given to everyone else. In the first days of the COVID sheltering-in-place mandate, the streets were quiet. If I needed to drive myself, it was seldom, and for short distances. For the most part, I stayed close to home.

You have your story of COVID-time, I’m sure. This is my story.

Activities that were meaningful to me – classes at a Senior Center, or volunteering as a chaplain at a local hospital – stopped immediately. My familiar routine was erased, also. A few friends stayed in contact as they adjusted to this change in all our lives; one friend, who is the last person to call – ever – called me one evening just to chat. At Thanksgiving, we had to forgo the usual family gathering in San Francisco for a ZOOM call, listening to each person talk about what their life was like now.

Some days, my husband and I would drive a distance – 30, 40 miles – to walk. Over time, we developed favorite places, places to which we’ve returned again and again. We came to enjoy walks at the Martinez Slough, where we watched the water ebb and flow from the tide, sometimes allowing us to see a shipwreck in the Carquinez Strait, sometimes not. Often afterward, we’d drive through the neighborhoods of Martinez, sightseers with a lot of time on our hands. Or we’d walk downtown, alone on the empty streets.

We walked in downtown Oakland, too, not far from our home. In the weeks after the George Floyd protests, we took our time, looking at the graffiti that lined the buildings on Broadway. We stopped to take pictures. We discovered places in our city we had not seen before, or places that we had only driven past in our cars.

As the months passed, we became more accustomed to this new, quieting rhythm, and we added new sites to our list of walks. One day, we drove to Half Moon Bay, where we walked along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and then we walked on the high ridge that overlooks the shore. Because we live across the Bay from San Francisco, whose skyline we can see from our front window, we started to drive across the Bay Bridge – a dream to drive in pandemic days, with so little traffic! – to a different neighborhood on each visit, for a long walk on the hills, taking in the sites of the new places that we discovered.

One day in the fall of that first year, we drove to Apple Hill in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains for the yearly Apple Festival. We were grateful that the booths and stands, open-air, were open, yet were not filled with people from a long line of tour buses, which they had been in the past. The sight-seers’ loss was our gain as we enjoyed the quiet and safe surroundings.

Those early days of the pandemic are in the past, now. The busy street a block from our house is busy again. During the day and at night, I can hear the traffic passing, cars filled with folks busy in their lives. Now, although I continue to go to the grocery store early in the day – a habit I developed during the pandemic – even then, it can be busy, with lines of people waiting to check out.

Now, we are waiting – again – for another spike in COVID cases to complete its work, and, now, having learned about the ability of the virus to evolve again, and again, those early days are a long time ago. This is a new time, it seems.

Still, what will our lives be like when we are not barraged daily with new virus updates – the number of deaths, rising again, news stories of the famous who have lost their lives to COVID, COVID as the central and first news story, day after day?? We listen to the news each day, noting whether or not COVID is the first story of the newscast.

I’m in an in-between time, once again, in my life. What will interest me now? Where will I ever want to go, after this pandemic has moved into endemic mode? What will this new stage of my life, a stage I am not entering alone, but with all the other inhabitants of this world, be like? What will have changed, and what will not have changed? I guess, mostly, this is a time of questions.

Driving into Oakland from San Francisco on the Bay Bridge, March 16, 2020. The ship pictured was a cruise ship stranded in Oakland at the beginning of the pandemic. Photo credit: Mary Elyn Bahlert

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Lost and Found

Pacific, Storm, January, 2017 (meb)

3A7D9350-A86B-47E8-9C88-03FE96170983Sometimes, the path is not clear.  What will I do with my one “wild and precious life?”  I continue to ask, even this late in the journey.  The world is mine; I have my whole life of experience behind me.  Much that preoccupied me in earlier years will not arise again (thank God!).  And still, there is this yearning.

If I could do anything, what would it be?  These are the wonderings, the meanderings of a person of privilege in this world, to be sure.  Should I write?  Of course.  Should I travel?  Yes, as long as I can, and am able.  As long as I have other places to explore.  Should I sing?  Oh, yes!

How can I serve?  That has been a question I have held within myself since I was young, and that question alone has been a key that has opened a world to me, a key that broadened my world by measures I could not have imagined.  When I set out to “serve,” to help human-kind (at the time, I thought my service would “make a difference;” now, I think not), I was willing to let go of other things to do so.  Instead, I have discovered that the desire to serve, that alone,  opened the door to another life for me.

As I’ve grown older, I know that the value of service is not a value held by everyone.  I suppose for me, it has been a motivating force.  I thought it was a value of my generation; apparently not.  To serve is a value to some.

Another key to the opening of my life has been something that came with growing up in my family.  Although neither of my parents was “educated,” – my mother received her GED when I was in college, my father went through the 8th grade – both of my parents had a bright and vivid interest in the world.  Where did that come from?  I see now that having that interest in the world has been a shining star that has lit my path.  I see that others lack this quality – they will not “go beyond his father’s saying, and he likes having thought of it so well, he says again:  ‘Good fences make good neighbors (Robert Frost, “Birches”).”

I have an interest in the world that has allowed me to see that others can live differently than me, and that is good, not something that is suspect.  I have an interest in the world that has softened the edges of what I hold as right or good or holy.  My interest in the world has been a doorway – a wide, broad doorway with edges that can expand – has given me curiosity about the lives of others, about the world.  My curiosity has allowed me to question my own values and to see that they are mine, my own.  Others have their own; I may not understand, but it is good.

When my brother Ronn first married, I was still in my teens.  One day he said to me, casually, “do you know that other families are not interested in the world, like ours is?” I shook my head.  I had not thought of such a thing, and even more, I could not imagine it.  Like a child who observes the home of another family for the first time, seeing that things are different here, his question opened my world, even more.

For all of these things, I am grateful.  I am grateful for the call to service.  That call has been a well-appointed entrance into a larger world, for me.  I am grateful for the gift of interest, a simple quality, but a quality that carries within it a curiosity, about people, about life.  That curiosity also carries within it a curiosity about self, and that deeper, inside journey is itself a treasure.

“And God saw that it was good.”  – Genesis, The Bible

 

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Holy Moment

IMG_1102

We sat, together on the edge of your single bed,  in that narrow room.

There, you would die, within the year.

I told you that your little brother was dead:  “Uncle Pete died.”

Your green eyes filled with tears – I had seldom seen you cry –

a small sob escaped.

You were remembering, I guess,

those complicated years of disenchantment, and love.

 

In a moment your face cleared –  you smiled,

and laughed.

Gone.

 

 

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What life brings…

img_0897  Silver Lake, CA, late August, 2016.

In the wisdom years, I am so often grateful for those moments, those rich times that have certainly been part of life all along, but which I was too busy to notice in my busy, important life. What joys I have missed. Now, I witness the changing light of the days, I see the grass bend slightly to mark a passing breeze, I watch our local towhee dance only a few feet from me, watching, and I see the red streak of light over San Francisco Bay as the sun sets, a line of fire across the sky for only a few moments.

Since my beloved and I have returned from a few days in the Eastern Sierra, I have seen a few yellow leaves flying on the branches of my other witness to the changing seasons, the birch tree I love, outside my front window.

Just about 9 PM the other night, the phone rang in the kitchen.  I remarked to my husband, who, along with me, was already in bed, reading, that our phone rings so seldom.  I did not register the number of the caller, but when I answered, the frantic voice of a life long friend spoke to me.  I responded to something in her clear, commanding voice, by asking:  “is something wrong?”

Her husband had spent Labor Day in the hospital, including an MRI that returned with the news that he has a fast-growing cancer, a tumor in his brain.  When the short call was over – what can be said, after all? – I leaned over, bare feet on the kitchen floor, and cried.  Then, I told my husband.  I placed the book I had been reading on the floor next to the bed, turned over, and tried to pray.

How do I  pray at such a time?  What do I ask?  How do I do this?  I ask you, but I expect you do not know the answer, either.  There is nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing except to be a witness to this, also.  How big is God? I thought, my thoughts guarding me from my feelings as I lay in bed.  Thoughts will not guard me forever, though.

My prayers, my most heart felt prayers are with my friends, today.  I don’t know how to pray, so I expect my spirit, our spirit – yours and mine – will know.

Life, after all, brings these true and bliss-filled moments of beauty, and pain.