A Dent in the Coronavirus Darkness
We stay up late now, till one or two AM, and wake up late. For me, that’s around 9 AM. Late for you may be different. Every day, when I open my eyes, I do a self check in to see how heavy or light things feel. Do I feel well? Yes? Is everyone else in our little family well? Yes? Thank you, universe. Thank you.
I am writing from my family’s apartment on the Upper West Side of our beautiful New York City. It is March 27th and the wave of Covid-19 infections is rising all around us. The flowers and trees are also blooming. The sun falls in gentle arcs across green and growing things in the park. Our family has been sheltering in place for almost three weeks now. As far as I can tell, we have avoided Covid-19, but it will take another two weeks to be absolutely sure and by then we will have gone for groceries again, so, who knows?
This is the drumbeat of uncertainty we are all navigating.
So, I open my eyes. Perhaps I look at my phone. Perhaps I don’t. Each morning, it’s a choice. Trump’s madness will be there, cascading down the Twitter screen. I look at my partner, asleep next to me. I listen to her gentle breathing. Deep. Clear. No coughing. Good. I listen for my son in the next room. Still sleeping. No coughing. Good.
My heart feels the weight of it. Thousands of people are waking up sick this morning all across the city. Right now, doctors and nurses are battling to help the most ill among us, even as health care workers are hamstrung by a lack of supplies, ventilators, and other support in the relentless war they are fighting for all of us. Our president is letting New York City fight alone.
This is what waking up is for all of us now. Are we still well? Are we still us? Is the world going to be the world? What madness is playing out today, when we should all be working together? And lastly, “Where am I today. At what level is my heart, my anger, my joy, my hope?”
This morning I woke up and felt some energy. I felt some capacity. I cleaned the kitchen. It is a ritual for me. I like to think the distant sound of me stacking dishes, the clink of glasses, has meaning for others still half dreaming in their beds. Dad’s up. Dad’s being Dad.
Today, I felt some energy. So, I also acknowledged the beast. As I washed and cleaned, I reached out tentatively and allowed myself to feel the unrelenting uncertainty we are all facing. This is the beast that’s rising all around us, is clawing at us, demanding our energy and hope; the dark clouds on Dorothy’s horizon as she runs frantically away with Toto. We are all facing the deep existential dread of the worst kind of uncertainty. Take the wrong step, touch the wrong surface, stand next to the wrong person, and die. Or perhaps live, but infect a loved one. Maybe we’ve already made our fatal mistake, days ago with some small everyday gesture. Touching a doorknob. Sorting the mail.
In Western culture we fear uncertainly above all things. In our culture of control, uncertainty is the devil, to be banished by schedules and spreadsheets and retirement accounts and sheer unrelenting determination. Uncertainty is to be planned away, defeated by daily vitamins, good grades, prayed away in churches, exercised into submission on jogging tracks and weight machines. We figure out how to stay safe and be 360 degree aware. We buy handguns and security cameras. We teach our children about stranger danger.
And just when we think we have it all worked out, a hug from us becomes the worst danger of all.
Our culture’s last tattered illusions of certainty are gone now. Covid-19 is the perfect storm of not knowing at every possible level; at the interpersonal, the environmental, the political, the spiritual.
And, as the universe would have it, all this comes with a lesson about how we have strayed. How we have lost our way. We are now forced to confront our fundamental human truth, something which our self-centered culture of individuality has long sought to hide from us.
Covid-19 is our teacher. Herein lies the lesson. We are all interconnected. We are all part of one single vibrant network of human relationships. There is no way that our political systems or societies will work unless they are designed and built on that single central understanding. Herein lies the lesson. We rise or fall together. But because we have instead created a society of selfish, isolating individualism, based on all the ugly predatory divisions of class, race and gender, we are falling and falling fast.
Since we started staying at home, my partner, Saliha and I have begun to cook a central meal every day. I don’t know when it started, but it has become a ritual now. And when we cook, we cook like our lives depend on it, because in a very real way, they do. We make the most wonderful and satisfying meals we can imagine. We share our ideas about spices and other details back and forth, little gifts, offered and received. “What about adding some of this,” and “what if we did that?” And yes, it is fair to say lives do depend on this, because, as hundreds of generations of our forebears will tell you, rituals are key in a world of uncertainty.
Rituals are emerging all around us, crafted, in part, by the constraints placed upon us. In our homes as we shelter in place, on the streets as we pass six feet apart, so much more aware then we once were that another is passing. How is hello now? How is I see you? Look to the positive rituals of connection coming into being all around us. They are powerful markers of human resiliency.
Notice and care for the smallest of these rituals. They are the reflexive human response to uncertainty and fear. They hold generative space for the uncertainty that they are born out of. In this way, uncertainty creates something wonderful. Uncertainty’s gift to us is the reminder that human relationships are the most flexible and powerful of resources available to us in an uncertain world. Which means, uncertainty is not bad or good. It simply is. What human beings create out of uncertainty can be magnificent. New rituals for a new world are emerging right now all around us. It has never been otherwise. Small single gestures become daily patterns of meaning and purpose.
My son and a friend from his high school are reading The Great Gatsby to each other late into the night. When this began, I can’t say for certain. They start after midnight. I hear his phone on speaker in his room; in the early morning hours, one voice reading, then the next. Sometimes, I stand for a brief moment listening but not for long. It is not mine to have, this story being handed back and forth in the night. “We do it to keep each other from going insane,” he tells me. And there it is. Despite all that’s aligned against them, two voices, here in New York City, telling a human tale to each other across the softly hissing ether. A ritual of connection born out of the darkest uncertainty.
I will write again. Our love to you all.