Morning Thoughts

July 9, 2020:  The First Tomato

I am up early this morning, enjoying delightfully cool hours that should be quiet, but are not. For some reason the sound of traffic is loud, not only from I-40 half-a-mile away, but also from the surrounding streets. I water the potted plants in the patio, which are blooming profusely, thriving on Miracle Gro. I fill the fountain, eye the bird feeders (which also need refreshing) and wander out to the three tomato and half-a-dozen basil plants in the bigger yard. I water them, too, and when I bend down to feel the reddest tomato, it slips off the vine and into my hand. It is ready.

I return to the kitchen and touch the overly large peaches in their protective carton.  The house is warmer inside than out, and the peaches (not from the garden) are softening. They must be eaten.  No hardship in that, although I was hoping to save some for the family visit in a few days.

Our orchard’s peaches, along with the apples, plums, pears, and many of the cherries, froze this spring when unusual warmth was followed by sudden cold, dashing our hopes, just as the sudden onslaught of the Coronavirus rearranged our lives.

The family comes in four more days.  What should be a purely joyous time is filled with uncertainty.  All visitors from out-of-state are required to be quarantined for fourteen days.  What does this mean for us?  Both families have been careful for months now.  We will welcome them into our “bubble.”  I’m longing to hold Zia on my lap and read him stories and hold Rumi in my arms again while he is still a baby.  We will welcome and embrace our loved ones without social distancing, come what may.

Reading with Zia

Three weeks later: August 1, 2020

The family has come and gone.  They filled the house with youth, chaos, love, and laughter for ten days.   The cruel spring had turned into an even crueler summer, aside from a brief flicker of hope in early June.  We hold on to the possibility of meeting again, somewhere between here and San Francisco for Christmas, but that time seems so far away.  Baby Rumi will have had his first birthday, and I will have missed most of his delightful babyhood.  We’ve folded up the inflatable swimming pool, put the box of wooden blocks back in the closet, and piled the books into a stack. The house is quieter and neater now.  I wish it weren’t.

Life seems to be standing still, but it’s not.  It is divided into before and after, like the times before and after Ed’s cancer diagnosis, when our lives and our perspectives changed in an instant.  Then, as now, there were moments when we almost forgot, when we tricked ourselves into thinking the diagnosis wasn’t real and life continued much as it always had.  Tucked away now, in our cozy home and expansive garden, we sometimes forget that the world outside is no longer the same.

We met our lawyer this week, to sign amendments to our wills.  I changed out of my shorts and t-shirt, making an effort to be presentable and somewhat business-like.  I even put on a bit of lipstick, forgetting it would be invisible behind my mask.  Maybe eye make-up will be the next big thing?  But will anyone even see our eyes?  Will we ever get dressed up again for anything? We met in the lobby; our lawyer dressed as though for a comfortable Saturday at home.

August has arrived, a month that marks the final weeks of summer and the gradual transition into fall.  What will fall be like this year with no State Fair, no Balloon Fiesta, and almost certainly no Halloween?  I am mourning the end of life as we have known it, uncertain whether it will ever come back; and if it does, how will it have changed?  It came back after the 1918 flu and roared into the 1920s.   It came back after the plagues in the middle ages and sparked the Renaissance.   But it is hard to remain hopeful when everything appears to be spiraling downward, one disaster after another: politics, climate, and angry divisions among people who should be helping one another, not squabbling.  But, “hope is the thing with feathers.”

I escape, reading Kent’s life on boats; in my imagination still inhabiting that good-old-world, which in retrospect resembles a paradise lost that we did not appreciate when we had it; and that shocked us with its unexpected demise.  We are editing the stories and letters from the years when Kent and Pam “ran away to sea,” during a previous time of crisis in our country and in their lives.  We might ask if there has ever been a time that was not one of crisis.  We have so much to do, and like Alexander Hamilton we are running out of time.  Who will tell our story?  We write as fast as we can, but the garden beckons.  It, too, constantly changes and needs loving care.

I am thankful for the cool nights and early mornings of New Mexico.  Should I snuggle under the covers for a bit longer, or get up and enjoy the coolness, the flowers, the birds, and a tomato that has ripened over night?  Perhaps a bit of both?  Quo vadis?

Sometimes life in Coronavirus times seems to move at a snail’s pace, and sometimes one day blends into another, and we wonder where time has gone.

Grief, Pilgrimage, and Saint Patrick’s Day

17 March 2020

Grief: For the world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, grief for the world we didn’t think we’d lose so suddenly, and perhaps irretrievably.  I grieve for the loss of my freedom to travel, to visit friends and family, to live as I please.  I grieve for the people of the world who are much more impacted than I have been so far:  for those who are ill, those who have lost their incomes, and their loved ones.  For Those who cannot, as our president admonishes us, “enjoy your living room.”

Yet, as I walked the ditch banks this afternoon, I thought of my life as a pilgrim, and how the pilgrim learns to accept whatever happens – learns that there are things that can be controlled and those that cannot.  The hardy group of American Pilgrims on the Camino who gathered last weekend on the shores of spectacular Lake Tahoe, adapted to ever-changing circumstances as news of the pandemic and subsequent regulations assailed us.  Travel to Europe was suspended, the Spanish Camino de Santiago closed and all pilgrims ordered to return to their homes, while a series of ever-bigger snowstorms caused many, including me, to depart from Lake Tahoe before the end of the Gathering, when a break in the snowfall presented an opportunity to cross the mountain passes.

So, here I sit, home now for twenty-four hours, thinking of all this as I listen to a recording of the great John McCormack singing Irish songs I’ve known and loved since my youth.  They are melancholy, as the lovers are parted by distance and death.  I’ve put on my shamrock necklace, even though I am not Irish, despite a hint of Celtic in my DNA.  But I have children who are one quarter Irish, and my first husband Ed had an Irish twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his voice that perhaps came from his mother, Ellen Mildred Courtney.

My intention for this Saint Patrick’s Day was to celebrate with my daughter Psyche, her husband Saad, and my two adorable grandchildren, ages almost three and almost four months.  But, alas, San Franciscans are “sheltering in place,” and to visit seemed foolhardy, if not impossible.  I long to be with them, because despite my lack of Irish heritage, the days surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day are important ones that are associated with momentous turning points in my life.

In 1973, in Tucson, Arizona, I celebrated completing my comprehensive exams for a master’s degree in English literature by throwing a party for which my mother made Cornish pasties and I baked a cake which I decorated with a picture of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland.  A reference librarian searched at length for details or an image of this legend, which we never found.  I begged her to stop looking; and was embarrassed to tell her it was only to decorate a cake – not for some serious research project.  Only after I became a reference librarian myself did I understand how librarians love the thrill and challenge of such searches and don’t want to to quit even when their patrons say, “Enough.”

Just four years later, on March 16, 1997, I first laid eyes on Ed Philips during my very first meeting of a Unitarian singles group in State College, Pennsylvania.  We had a brief conversation, but there was something about him that caused me to write in my diary that very evening, “If God wants me to marry Ed Philips, so be it.”  We were married on May 29 that same year, which was both of our birthdays, eighteen year apart.

In my kitchen hangs a beautifully framed group of photos.  An inscriptions reads:  Paquimé, near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico, visited by Linnea Hendrickson, Helen Williamson, Jeanne Howard, and Ross Burkhardt, March 17, 1999.

The day before we departed on this trip, we found a puddle of oil under my car in Jeanne’s driveway.  Helen and I stayed an extra night in Las Cruces, so the car could be repaired.  We had had a celebratory traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner with Jeanne and Ross and assorted family the previous day, topped off with Irish coffee.  Now, as Helen and I drove alone across the remote, windswept roads of northern Chihuahua, we sang lustily along with John McCormack, a poignant memory, now that Jeanne (friend, adventurer, and trip and party organizer like me) is gone, and Helen (the first person I called upon Ed’s death) speaks to me no more.

Almost three years after Ed’s passing in June 2007, it was time to fulfill the vow I’d made while he was dying, to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  I was planning to walk in September, starting somewhere in Spain, depending how far I thought I could walk in three or four weeks.  But in February 2010, I began reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World, which filled me with a burning desire to walk from Le-Puy-en-Velay, in France, a distance more than twice as far as I’d intended to walk.

At a Christmas Eve party in 2009 – another event organized by Jeanne – I had met Kent, the “typewriter man.”  In February, he had driven all the way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, and I’d guided him to the junk stores and antique shops to look for typewriters. We had continued to correspond via email.  Then in March, I decided it was time I hosted, as I often had with Ed, a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner, with corned beef, cabbage, Irish songs I had printed so everyone could sing, and even a Saint Patrick’s Day trivia quiz.  As I assembled my guest list the ratio of men and women was unbalanced.  Why not invite Kent?  He could always say no.  I sweetened the invitation by suggesting he spend the night and we go hiking the following day.  I was still pondering whether I could possibly fit in a walk starting in France in April and May, before I had to be home for events in June and July.

Kent came, and that evening everyone had to leave the dinner party early, leaving the two of us alone by eight p.m.  What to do with an evening stretching before us?  We visited, then went to bed in our separate rooms, to be ready to arise early to hike.  We took two cars, leaving one at the Embudo trailhead and another at Three-Gun-Spring.  It was a fairly strenuous hike up over the pass that connected the two trails.  I was testing myself, my new boots, pack, and hiking poles.  Could I really take off to walk in France?  That hike decided it – three weeks later I was walking alone in France, and writing to Kent (on computers with French keyboards that had z’s where the a’s should be).

That afternoon after our walk, we sat in my backyard eating leftover plum cobbler before he headed back to Las Cruces.  He looked around the large yard and said, “I really l like your place.”  It was so comfortable and companionable having him there, my heart gave a little leap, and I felt, “I think he belongs here.”

It would be another year before he came to stay, but that Saint Patrick’s Day was a turning point, and the beginning of a new beginning.

So now, after our ditch walk, and be-decked with shamrock necklaces, we are about to sit down, not to corned beef and cabbage and cobbler, alas, and without the company of friends, but to bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, still happy to have each other in this broken world.