April 15, 9:30 am
The birthday cake is in the oven. I have twenty minutes to write.
Today is grandson Zia’s third birthday. We will be celebrating soon via Zoom, with his family at home and his aunties in Dubai and Bangladesh. This is not how we thought our lives would be today.
Three years ago, I was participating in a Good Friday pilgrimage in downtown Albuquerque, stopping at stations of the cross that represented the suffering of Jesus in our modern world: among them a women’s shelter, the county jail, and the courthouse where volunteers accompanied asylum-seekers to their hearings. I was anxiously awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, who should have arrived the previous week. During the readings at the women’s shelter my phone issued a silent flash. I took a quick peek. The long-awaited baby was on the way! Suddenly this solemn Good Friday was filled with joy and anticipation. Life and death on the same day.
I thought of Zia’s Grandpa Ed, whom he has never known, and how he would have been thrilled with this tax-day dividend, a gift from his youngest daughter. And I thought of the second Grampy Kent at home, not yet aware of the news. He would share grandparenting with me (the only biological grandparent).
Today I received an email from dear friend Jenny. She lives in Australia, which has suffered the double whammy of devastating fires and now coronavirus. She wrote that today is her mother’s 90th birthday. She, her husband and her Mum celebrated at home with cake and several festive meals, shared with family and friends via Zoom. Jenny and Jim were family to us during our year in Melbourne thirty years ago. Her Mum and Dad invited us to share the Christmas festivities with their extended family at their lovely cottage near the beach. None of us could have predicted we would be celebrating the birthdays of a 90-year-old and a three-year-old via Zoom on this day in 2020. In 1988 we had a computer, on which we typed letters, printed them, and then mailed from the post office.
I have been thinking of Noah and the Ark. Like Noah, we do not know when our quarantine will end, nor do we know what the world will be like when we return to it. Just as when we experience the death of a loved one, we wait for life to return to normal, eventually realizing that there will be no return to normal. Life has forever changed; and we must painstakingly create a new normal.
For Noah and his family, the isolation on the ark was a chance for a fresh start. The sinful world of quarreling people had been washed away, drowned in the flood. I suspect, sadly, that Noah’s new normal very quickly became the same-old-same-old, with all the faults and flaws of human nature all too soon returning. How glad they must have been to exit the ark after forty days and forty nights, despite the challenges that lay ahead.
[Buzzer went off: cake done. Here is a very short video of the birthday celebration.]
April 18, morning
I look at the April calendar, marked with events we won’t be doing in places we won’t be going. My heart is heavy this morning. I can’t believe that I mis-wrote Amazon (the river, not the gigantic online company that has become part of our everyday life) as Amazoon when I sent a link to my photos from the Amazon. What kind of Freudian slip was this? Amazoon – a zoo? Are we all creatures in a zoo or museum as Brenda Shaughnessy imagines in “Gift Planet,” featured this morning on Knopf’s April “Poem a Day” imagines. We live in a world shaped by humans, for better and for worse. We are married to our planet Earth, and there is no divorce but death. Or, perhaps it was Amazoom slipping into my fingers as I typed, reflecting our new life with Zoom – a virtual reality—is that an oxymoron?
Meanwhile our president, our leader, sows rebellion and dissent. Divide and conquer is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Wild dogs are on the loose, and we poor sheep shelter in place, trembling, under the care of an unreliable shepherd. Have you ever seen an angry sheep – perhaps a ram?
April 15 has come and gone. For the first time ever, I have not submitted my tax return. I am sure the government needs the extra money (which we always owe) and will use it wisely when it is finally received.
April 20, 2020, afternoon
Today is the five-month birthday of the second grandson. It has been three months since I last held baby Rumi (named for the poet and mystic). Even though I was present at your birth, we do not know each other the way I knew Zia, whom I visited for several days each month during his first year. I long to hold this sweet baby body. Smiling and waving and sending baby-talk through Facetime is not the same.
Five days have passed since I began writing these reflections. Every day is like another. The sky is bluer than I’ve ever seen it. I’m editing pictures from the Galápagos, now, and I find the inscrutable faces of the iguanas particularly fascinating. They eye me with a sideways stare, their mouths are shaped like enigmatic smiles. They are living descendants of the dinosaurs – of powerful, terrifying dragons and serpents – who in European tradition represent monstrous enemies to be tamed or slain, but who, especially in Chinese tradition, also represent wisdom. What might you say to us, iguanas, in this time of coronavirus? I am fascinated by your seemingly irreconcilable combination of beauty, ugliness, and mystery. What can we learn from you?