There. It was just like that; the sky was a bowl above me, and its rim the horizon in every direction. I’d read that line in a book and which book I couldn’t remember, but I must have liked the image because it stuck in my mind and surfaced in that sudden 12-year-old moment when I saw it was true.
Just before the world shut down, the Spouse and I ran away to the library. Just the two of us and the library we chose was three hours away. I was finishing a writing project, the Spouse was starting a new work, and we both wanted time to concentrate. It would be a backwards Sabbath, maybe, but a rest and a refocus nonetheless.
Here they are, the waiting days. Worried days. Shut-down, locked-down, up-and-down days. We are stilled. We flare up. Fret. Rage. Are stilled again. At my house, we’re five all together at home, and we know that’s lucky. We have friends who live alone, and we know that must be hard. But this is hard, too. These days are hard for everyone. These virus days are different in different places, but it’s all one story because nothing is the same and everyone is waiting for normal to return.
A Sunday morning snapshot of our locked-down life. Three Sundays now away from church. This feels wrong. We see the spire when we go out for a walk, but the doors are locked and we know that, so we don’t go close. It’s strange to think of it sitting there empty without us, like a drydocked boat, waiting for things to begin again.
It was a family long weekend and we headed out of town. They say that in Cornwall, the toe tip of Britain, spring comes early. Maybe we’d find good weather. Sunshine. Warmth. Well, that was optimistic, and we did get soggy, but we also saw fields of daffodils, a church with a cross made of surf boards, and seas of every shade of blue there is. I’d assumed summer sun made the Cornish seas lovely, but it must be the stone instead because even in the rain, the water was incredibly blue.
February. Who can think warm thoughts in February? It’s bleak, grey and hard to get through, despite its brevity. Margaret Atwood described February in a poem as the “month of despair, with a skewered heart in the centre.” I know what she means; I, too, come from Ottawa. But maybe it’s healthy to remember that poets like to exaggerate. Cold February might be less about grim despair than simply keeping going. In Old English, February was called kale-monath or cabbage month. It’s a month for persistence and daily, ordinary life.
A new year and the same old aches. The headlines change, and the photographs are different, but we still watch and worry, adding the names of far-off places to our church prayer lists. This year began with Australia’s massive bush fires. How do we answer? With prayer? Grief? Action? Donations? As with news of any disaster, it can be hard to know where to start. In October, I wrote in my column about trying to find a faithful response to the world’s hard news.
After all the gifts, one more. A new year ahead. A fresh start, if you want that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to change anything. You can just keep going. There are loud voices at this time of year crowing about all the changes we can make. Be stronger, be thinner, be greener, be better. But newness comes with or without our effort. Newness is a gift.
My mother came to visit. This was a big deal because these days we live five thousand kilometres apart and I hadn’t seen her since I was home last year when my dad died. We email and video-chat fairly regularly, but that isn’t the same. It isn’t face-to-face. She came at the end of September and stayed with us for a month. When I told friends about this visit, they paused, then asked rather deliberately how it “actually” was. A whole month with your mother in your house?
Bad news on the radio. Breakfast on the table. We sit together and drink coffee. Listen. Morning after morning. The news might be local or international and these days, it’s often tense, sometimes shocking so it can be hard to take in. Sometimes we get angry and the kids ask questions that we try to answer, and we try not to rage. Then more bad news: bad decisions, bad outcomes, bad weather on the horizon.
There was a sign on the window stating the cathedral was closed that morning for trimming, but the man sold us tickets anyway. There would still be plenty to see, he said. Just follow the path and enjoy.
Last September, I bought my first smartphone. The next day, I flew home to Ottawa because my father had been moved into a hospice and the doctors said he wouldn’t have long.