I haven’t been writing much since the quarantine hit because … well single Dad with 2 kids! Each day bursts its seams; dogs, kids, cats, and guinea pigs – all over the place. Early waking hours are spent wrangling classwork, Zoom meetings for all and my work. The yoga of picking up after everyone takes up whatever is left. We still go to bed early, and let the gravity of bed hold us well past sunrise. Its cliche but I feel blessed to have all our needs met and this time to be together. This new nest has served us well through this time of great change.
Then there is the dipping in of death.
Its infrequent, in a way soft, but persistent. Uncle George, every bit of 90 years, died of Covid on the East Coast. It was not jarring, it was somewhat expected after he and the other priests in his care home caught it, but it was totally lacking in the comfort you’d get from knowing family was with him. He passed a day after the anniversary of my Dad’s death, a few days before the second anniversary of Terry’s death in April. My neighbors grandmother died in a similar fashion not too long ago. Then there are the new Covid celebrity deaths and the private ones on the FB group Widows with Young Kids. Last night a nurse shared – she had Covid and gave it to her husband. She recovered, he did not. She’s just a few days out.
Quarantine has had the flavor of Terry’s illness and passing with it from the beginning, which is not as bad as it sounds. After she died the kids and I were inseparable. It was like we all moved more deeply into each other, digging burrows where we could bed down when we needed to. We became the most important thing in the world to each other, bar none. This time is like that. I have no real resistance to it, it feels good, challenging at times to be sure, but good.
When George died they wanted to know more about what dying was like, what his dying was like, what Momma’s dying was like. They hadn’t asked a thing about that in 2 years, they just knew her spirit left her body. I was honest: her breathing slowed more and more, until there were great pauses between breaths. Then she was gone. It was very peaceful. True began her wailing cry and Tadg joined in for the first time in a long time. He let me hold him. I felt so grateful for his tears. He has deep waters within his heart, feels so much. That big cry blew a lot of dust out of our lives, got us ready for the season to turn.
Summer is chasing us down, the forests and rivers are pulling us in.
One of our favorite pastimes back at our old place was to go up land from our house to an extra large hammock tied between two ancient Oaks. More of a roller coaster ride than relaxation, we would go up there to blow off steam, spin and play and tickle and fall out and cry sometimes but always get back in. Tadg insisted we buy a new hammock here, it just arrived. It has not lost its charm. Tadg reads Calvin & Hobbes, True entices me to spin her vertical. They have not forgotten how to make joy, its still easy for them.
I’m just starting to find the places I’ll be haunting over the coming years. Some are the bends in rivers that create spaces for animals and other beings to gather. Others are hidden springs where the spirits of the land still find sanctuary from us. I’ve found one great monolith that splits the worlds with its presence, making a gateway for travelers I haven’t yet met.
I really come here to listen. I listen for who might be here, both in body and in spirit, and I listen for the Oran Mor – the great song of life, as the Celts have called it through the centuries. Rivers are great places to hear the Oran Mor, they are always singing. That great song is thought to be both the creator and the created, it animates all things and out of it all things come.
God as music makes good sense to me right now.
Quarantine brings with it a special kind of loneliness, its productive. My heart aches, not in a way that hurts, more like in the way of missing an old friend. That kind of yearning is thought to be necessary for spirituality to grow by some. There must be a loss and a wanting coupled with an ardour for spirit. Its taken this kind of aching to finally help me understand prayer better.
we pray to visit
a deeper trust
than the waking world
to carve ourselves open
to the night sky
so that all who study us from the hidden world
can see our barest bones
I wonder if we’ve all been listening more during the quarantine. Have you heard the blessed absence of the machinery of our way of life? Has there been more room for the Oran Mor to find each of us? Has loneliness made our seeking stronger, made us each hungry again? I think that makes each of us a little holy. That is surely a good thing.
Maybe thats another reason why this time feels so much like the time when Terry was ill. You don’t really come out of a loss like that of a spouse, a Mother, everything is just different. Thats what this feels like. Life after quarantine will be different because so many of us have changed. Our lives have shifted, the ground we stand on is not the same ground.
We won’t be coming out of quarantine, so much as coming into a new world.
George is the second uncle I’ve lost to a pandemic, the first was his younger brother, Jude Flynn who died of AIDS. He died late compared to so many of his peers. He said he’d attended well over 50 funerals by the time he fell ill. I remember visiting him in the Castro before during and after the disease swept through. It was tangibly different each time. The space had changed in every way. It was subtle, like a ground shift in a forest. Things might look the same in a picture, but if you’re there, they feel wildly different.
A tremendous space has been opened up in our culture, but its not a vacuum, its a holy silence. There is a bigger world calling out to each of us. The only sane thing to do is to open ourselves to it, surrender to its chances, follow the great song it offers to all of us. My kids get to do it from a giant hammock.
Maybe I can pray myself into it gracefully. I look forward to meeting you there.
Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.