The first week of sequester was so much fun. All my work obligations were gone. I had an air-tight excuse for rejecting every invitation, every request, every “should do that.” I had to stay home, and I wasn’t even sick, like other times when I have been a shut-in. I was full of energy to turn toward this new world, the world inside my house! I made a pledge to get dressed every morning, because otherwise it might never happen, and to meditate. Beyond that, there were no rules.
On the first day Roberto and I cleaned the refrigerator, thorough, drawers and shelves out, containers of green and blue fuzz sent to the compost pile. I was so proud that I made a chart where I could track each day – a column for exercise, for house and yard projects, for doing good, for spirit/mind enrichment. (In retrospect I should have made a column for Netflix, for that, it turns out, is the one constant.) The little squares for Day One were all full! This was going to be so productive. Day Two we cleaned out cupboards and began sewing masks. I sent a check to the local Food Depot and bought a gift certificate to support our shuttered beloved local bookstore. I took a long walk and meditated. Life was so good that I realized that this forced retirement (much of my mediation work dried up almost immediately) was not something to fear but to embrace!
There was one significant problem. The deep, institutional inequality in this country came into sharper focus each day. We were living in luxury. Plenty of food, gas, shelter, friends and access to nature right outside the door. We can walk in the arroyo all day and not see a soul. We can even take our neighbor’s dog with us if we want to pretend we have a dog. We have enough money to write checks to assuage the guilt. That is real luxury. I imagined being trapped with 3 children under 4 years old, or with a couple of frustrated teenagers, or with an abusive spouse, or without enough money and food, or all of the above. I thought of the inevitability of outbreaks in prisons, in refugee camps, in the jam-packed streets of Calcutta. Now the news is full of the stories of people, out of work, dealing with stresses in every aspect of their lives. We see inside the hospitals, the heartbreaking interviews with medical workers, the staggering reports from morgues and funeral homes, the pictures of a nurse, a fireman, a bus driver who have died…and the families they leave behind.
Close to home, Indian Country has been hit hard. In New Mexico 52% of our covid cases are Native American, yet only 10% of the population is Indian. It is a terrible crisis, and another symptom of the stark inequity in this country. One-third of Navajo households have no running water, so regular, thorough hand-washing is impossible. Traditional Navajo homes are one-room, six-sided hogans that hold a family, often three generations. Health care, education, economic development, – you name it — is substandard in most of Indian Country. When a pandemic hits, it is inevitable that this population along with other minorities in both urban and rural settings, will take a disproportionate hit. [added 5-4-2020: many people have asked me how to help — I recommend the Navajo Nation Department of Health at http://www.nndoh.org/donate.html Also, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez gave a really good interview to Chris Cuomo on CNN a few days ago https://video.snapstream.net/Play/1mqiKotJTAWUfQ5UvWObAT?accessToken=2o35t2ta9d3w ]
On Day 6 I got up, did not get dressed and zombie-walked into the kitchen. I stood and stared at the wall. “I could just stand here all day,” I told myself, “and it wouldn’t make any difference.” My chart for that day was empty.
But, now at Day 45, I have found reasons to keep going.
- Making masks: We have ramped up our production using scrap material that I was saving for when I turned into a quilter, which was never going to happen anyway. We have sent dozens of masks to the Navajo Nation where we have good friends who can distribute them for us. Our masks are a small gesture, but one that is much appreciated. And we are very grateful to be able to do something.
- A stranded French family: About a month ago a French family of four arrived next door in their camper van. In February they had landed on the east coast to begin a six-month tour of
national parks. They spent a carefree few weeks in Florida, before heading west. By the time they reached Carlsbad Caverns, NM, they realized that they needed to abandon their itinerary and find a place to hunker down. In desperation, and with little English, they texted a French-speaking couple from New Hampshire they had met in the Everglades. They referred them to their friends in Santa Fe, our next door neighbors. Christophe, Berenice, Eva and Matheo have become so integral to the neighborhood that, yesterday when they suggested that they might be able to move on in a couple of weeks, I cried, “Nooo! Ce n’est pas possible.” Bonds that are formed in times of crisis are special. They are grateful for the safe haven, and we are grateful for the chance to form an international friendship that I know will last, even as they mosey down the road. (for more about the family go to https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/french-family-s-road-trip-across-united-states-takes-twist-n1178586 )
- Nature: On my daily walks I take comfort in the constancy of nature, just rolling along, doing her thing which includes the beautiful and the horrific. And I wonder if maybe this is her message to us, giving us a taste of what the planet could be if we changed our ways. She is giving herself a much needed break by curtailing our activities. The canals in Venice are clean, the coasts around cruise ship destinations abound with happy whales and dolphins, people in the most polluted cities can see skylines and horizons they may have never seen, birds are chirping more and louder without the competition of human clatter. The photo of the coyote staring at the Golden Gate Bridge is a classic.
- A new normal: My hope is that when the pandemic recedes and we “go back to normal,” that normal will not be the old normal. I pray that we hang onto some of these revelations, that we mend our ways and become a more compassionate and equitable society, living a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle, with less travel and less consumption. Those wishes are mighty aspirational, but here is one that is in my power. On the personal level, I promise to remember the insights from this enforced sequestration and not retreat to the old normal, where I frenetically tried to satisfy whatever need came along, where I was never caught up, and where I neglected the joys of home. I hope that both the planet and I hang onto the sweetness of this time, even as we struggle to forget the horrors.
- And finally, every morning I watch one of the four following video clips. It’s a ritual that sets me on the right track for the day. Give it a try.
- Two feature toddlers
- Two include music
- Two have dogs
- One has an ice cream cone
- One stars a young couple that I wish I were sequestered with….
….and none of them is political
(sorry, I don’t know why the first two appear as links, but they all work)