Tag Archives: friends

Same, Same, But Not Really

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

I’m having a hard time keeping track of the date and day of the week. The shape of my time has changed, and my life now feels uncomfortably uncontained. I no longer navigate by my old landmarks and routines.

I notice, as I intentionally reach out to friends, that our interactions no longer revolve around weekend plans, leisure activities and local events and opportunities. I want to hear their voices, talk with them, be with them, but I have no real news, nothing that seems exciting or interesting to say. We all have projects to help us feel productive and give ourselves something to focus on, but my projects don’t feel important enough to share in any detail. In fact, after the initial question, no longer a casual politeness, but THE question: How are you?—I don’t have any sparkling conversation to offer.

Not that I’m usually a sparkling conversationalist.

And what about that question? How to answer? Yes, I am well physically and grateful to be so. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I despair. I don’t feel safe out in the world. I’m infuriated and appalled by conspiracy theories, protests, misinformation and willful ignorance. I’m anxious about the future. I’m loving being outdoors and having so much time to write. I’m horrified by the sense of inescapable slow-motion collapse that I have no power to stop or alleviate.

I love all this unstructured time.

I hate all this unstructured time.

How are you? Same, same. Same as you. Same as yesterday.

But not really.

Photo by Ludde Lorentz on Unsplash

Not really, because life is not a brightly colored video game with music, sound effects, fast action and a replay button. We know that, of course, but we forget that we know it as we move faster and faster, consume more and more, racing to keep up. So many of us structure our time with various kinds of instant gratifications, even if that’s just an alert that we’ve got a text message or an e-mail.

Now, all of a sudden, the plug on our video game is pulled and we’re reintroduced into a slower, more natural flow and rhythm. Events unfold subtly and sometimes invisibly. Deep forces are at work that we can only intuit.

We were informed yesterday that one of our best local long-term care facilities has a resident who has tested positive for COVID-19. Central Maine, so far, has been comparatively lucky in terms of numbers of infections and deaths, partly because we have a low population and are mostly rural, and partly due to the dedicated teamwork of our governor and CDC representative. My partner and I are very careful when we are in public, wearing masks and gloves and observing social distancing. Many others are, as well.

Some are not.

During all those same, same days last week, coronavirus was incubating, invisibly and silently, in that nursing home. It wasn’t identified until yesterday, but it was there, replicating, infecting, and probably spreading. We just didn’t know it yet.

Today, the whole facility, staff and patients, will be tested. If there are several positive tests, we’ll have an outbreak and widespread community transmission will have come to our small city.

I often have the thought, as I rake, help my partner stack firewood, plan for gardens, clean the bathroom, wash out a mask or cook a meal, that all this busyness is pointless. What’s it all for? Who’s it all for? What is the shape of the future?

Is there a future distinct from these times, or will we go on, same, same, day after day, until we grow old and die, or get sick with coronavirus, whichever comes first?

At this point in my thoughts, I find myself leaning on my rake, staring blankly at the next patch of ground to clear, or standing staring out the kitchen window with a soapy plate in my hands, and with a click time and I begin moving again.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

I remind myself that of course there is a future. I simply can no longer predict the shape of it. I’m too small and too limited. Time, life, the cosmos, never stop. Change is always with us, but we’re not big enough to see or understand most of it, or it happens too slowly for us to discern, so we assume it’s not happening. We feel stuck in some unchanging, endless stasis.

There’s so much we don’t know. Sometimes all that we don’t know terrifies me, and other times it comforts me.

And there are things I do know. Life is change. Change itself is neutral. We can welcome it and work with it, or we can resist and fear it, a chocolate or vanilla choice. The small choices we’re each making in this moment are shaping the future in ways we’ll never know about or understand. The future is literally built on this moment, and we all influence it.

Raking won’t fix coronavirus, or the economy, or the terrible damage our national leadership is inflicting. It won’t shape a future I can look forward to and invest in. It’s not fast and sexy and addictive; something I’ll post on Instagram or Facebook with a selfie and get “likes” or thumbs-ups or hearts. On the other hand, it makes me happy to be outside working on the land. It keeps me strong and healthy to be in the sun and fresh air. It satisfies me to be clearing the ground for mowing. It’s an activity that’s keeping me going right now, providing fuel for my love and creativity, the best offerings I can make to others and to life.

How are you, who are reading these words? Same, same, but not really? I hope you’re well in mind, spirit and body. I hope you stay that way.

I’m raking and stacking firewood. I’m writing. I’m holding tight to my friends. I’m picking up seedlings, buying local eggs, transplanting a rose. I don’t know when I’m going back to work. I don’t know what work will look like when I do go back. I don’t know what my economic future looks like, or if we’ll be able to buy the food we need. I don’t know anything about the deep, invisible changes and currents that are always present in life and mostly hidden from my awareness. This day blurs into all the others since the day I stopped working. I have to look at the calendar to know the day of the week and date. I’m not even sure what time it is.

Outside my window, the wind is blowing, stirring the budding trees and buffeting against the house. Things are happening, visibly and invisibly, here at home, in the community, in the state, in the country, in the world. This day is different than yesterday, and tomorrow will be different again, in spite of this long, weary grind of being stuck at home and uncertain about everything. It looks the same as yesterday. It feels the same as yesterday. But it’s not the same.

How am I? Same, same. But not really.

My daily crime.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Easter Weekend: Aftermath

April 10, 2020

After a devastating storm on Thursday, April 9, 2020, by the weekend we were pulling ourselves together. We closed off parts of the house in order to preserve what heat we had from the woodstove. We had several buckets of snow melting for flushing the toilet. Our wood stove sits in an old fireplace, which limits our ability to cook on it, but we had a shallow, wide pot for heating water, a small skillet in which to cook eggs, and another shallow pot to heat or simmer food in.

We shut the kitchen away from the heat, trying to keep it near refrigerator temperature to spare our food, opening the freezers only when absolutely necessary.

We assembled flashlights and candles. We filter our drinking water in a big five-gallon bucket. Our water comes from an old hand-dug well, and it’s sweet and good, but we’re careful to filter. The bucket had not been filled before the power went out, and our pump is electric, so we knew we’d need water. Bottled water has been very difficult to find in the stores and if it is available, we can only buy a gallon or two at a time.

Our laptops had nearly full charges, but our cell phones were low. We figured out how to make a hot spot with my partner’s phone, but it drained the battery quickly, so we hastily made calls and sent e-mails to our loved ones and shut it all down. We called the power company again. This time the recorded message gave no estimated time of the power coming back up and advised us to “prepare for a multi-day event.”

I was desperate for a hot shower. My hair, never civilized in the first place, is badly in need of a cut, which I can’t get right now because of coronavirus restrictions. I felt like a dirty, disheveled steel wool poodle. Yikes!

We made a plan for me to go to a friend who still had power on Sunday, take a shower, get some water, and charge our laptops and cell phones.

Two friends showed up with their kids to take a walk with us on Saturday, and we went up the hill, our usual approximately 3-mile walk. For the initial few yards the road is paved, but then reverts to dirt. We saw tree damage everywhere, and evidence of large downed trees having been cut up and removed from the road in several places. Many trees were suspended on the lines, and there were long stretches of line draped around and over the road and ditches, snarled up with tree debris. We saw no sign of power or tree service trucks.

Every other house had a generator running.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Shortly after our friends left, one of them called to tell me that four staff in the rehab building at the hospital, where we’ve all been working, have tested positive for COVID-19, and we’re all on a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which we are furloughed until further notice. The building is shut down.

This was sobering news. I’ve been turning myself inside out trying to get hours at work, doing shifts in screening tents, working at a screening table, even doing things like putting together trauma packs—whatever needed to be done. In a way, it’s a relief to just be out of work. At least I can count on it! On the other hand, I felt concerned about my colleagues in the building. We don’t know who is sick.

How the hell was I going to keep the house clean and protect my partner without power and hot water? And if I’m in quarantine he has to go out and buy groceries and expose himself.

Shit.

In addition, we heard of another storm coming, this one with heavy rain and high winds. More than 200,000 people lost power during the snowstorm, and most of us were still down. Countless damaged and leaning trees were balanced precariously, held up by their neighbors, branches and crowns tangled together.

We read as long as we could by daylight, and had another early night in bed.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

On Sunday morning (Easter Sunday) I loaded up the car with water jugs and our tech and went to my friend’s house. On the way, I saw one lone power truck from an out-of-state company with one lineman in the truck and another in a personal vehicle. They were trying, I knew, but coronavirus has complicated everything.

My friend was ready for me, and we plugged everything in to charge. I had a wonderful hot shower, washed my wild hair and felt much better. I sat on her living room floor drinking tea and dealing with my e-mail, looking at the weather forecast and headlines. We filled various containers with water and loaded them into the car.

On the way home, about a quarter of a mile from our house, I came across a tree service truck taking a tree off the line. Out here in Maine, when the power goes down the first responders are the tree service people. When they start working, we know the power company is not far behind them. I felt like cheering.

As we unloaded the water, my partner told me he’d been seeing both tree and power trucks going back and forth, and we dared to hope we might be up and running sooner rather than later. We decided to take a walk. When we returned, I wandered over to look at our shattered maple while my partner went in the house. He stuck his head out the door and called to me that the power was back on.

We discovered we still had no Internet. We called our Internet provider and got a recorded message: “If you’re calling from Maine, please hang up. If you’re calling from other service areas, please stay on the line.”

Great.

A few minutes later, the friend with whom I’d spent the morning called to say she was achy and feverish and going into the ER to get tested, per hospital staff protocol.

Shit.

We turned on the hot water heater and I got to work. I was determined to get done what I could before the next storm arrived. I put on a mask, as I’d been exposed to my friend so closely, knowing it was probably too late to protect my partner, but feeling I must do what I could. As I scrubbed and scoured and wiped with bleach, I worried about my friend being alone, sick and scared. I worried about my partner. I worried about other friends and coworkers and their families.

I worried. And cleaned. And worried.

By the end of the day, the house was in order, everything was fully charged, we had lots of extra water, and we were set to deal with another outage if it came.

That night, before I slept, I read by electrical light and was grateful. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what Monday would bring.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

Touch

Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

Last evening, I was part of a remarkable conversation about hugs.

Yes, hugs.

I’ve written before about my hunger for touch and the shame that goes with it. A longing for touch is something that’s always with me to some degree, ebbing and flowing with my social context, but I hide it and rarely speak of my need. Keeping it secret is, of course, self-protective. I’m ashamed of my need and what others will think of it, but we also live in a culture that distorts much of our rightful and healthy sexuality and sensual expression. A woman who craves physical affection and reassurance is exceedingly vulnerable and very likely to be misunderstood.

I’m also respectful of the boundaries of others; unfortunately, many people are badly wounded around unwanted and/or inappropriate touch. I myself am confused about the interaction of abuse, touch and sex, and I know many others are as well.

Yet I maintain that touch is one of the core needs we all have, and I know touch deprivation is a condition that has been extensively studied. As human beings, we don’t develop normally if we’re touch deprived or otherwise dislocated from our neurobiological need for skin-to-skin contact.

This is an issue I deal largely with inside my own head, although I have mentioned it in writing. I haven’t discussed it among friends. If we reveal how ugly and pathetic we are, we won’t have friends, right?

Sigh. No. Not right. We all have secrets like this, and true friends don’t turn away from our warts and scars. Also, I get bored by my own fear and the tension between being real and being accepted. To hell with it.

Last night, I found myself standing outside in the early winter evening with two others talking about, of all things, hugs. The harsh light at the apex of the barn roof fell on us, making strange, stark shadows on our faces,

Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash

I was stunned (first) and amused (later) to discover that a hug meant something entirely different to each of us. I’m constantly poking at the different meanings we have for words and concepts, and I’m acutely aware of the confusion and conflation of things like respect and agreement. Why should the experience and interpretation of either giving or receiving a hug be any different?

I suppose it’s such a deep, painful and private issue that I’ve simply never given it enough airtime to realize that touch, too, has many different meanings. The only meaning I’ve been able to see is my own, and I realize now my meaning is very unsophisticated and black and white:

Touch means love. If there is no touch, there is no love. If my touch is rejected, my love is rejected, which I take personally and make into a rejection of me, naturally!

So there we stood in the icy driveway, having just disembarked from the car. I said (and realized as I said it how true it is, though I never expressed it this way before) that a hug is the best “I love you,” that I can express. I’ve always been able to say (and hear!) far more physically than I can with words.

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

My friend (another woman) said that she learned to think of hugs as a sign of weakness.

Another friend (a man) said that to him a hug, or most other kinds of physical contact, are a threat of pain, violence or abuse.

Wow. The three of us stood there, looking at each other. I was reminded of how little we know or guess about what goes on below the surface of others, even others we know and care about. I was humbled by their honesty, touched by their vulnerability, grateful for the reminder that we’re all carrying around pain and confusion over something in our heads and hearts. I wanted (of course!) to take them both in my arms, but refrained (also of course).

It’s amazing to understand that the best, most compassionate and loving gift I can give another might feel to the recipient like a threat, or endanger their sense of strength and independence. My intention may be completely lost in translation.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

When I think about the times I’ve felt rejected or rebuffed as I interact with people who aren’t comfortable with touch, I suddenly realize their discomfort is likely not about me at all. I no longer get to be the star in my soap opera (nobody loves me, I’m old, I’m ugly, I’m untouchable). Maybe, in fact, others don’t want to make me feel weak, or threatened, or who knows what else!

I can’t help but giggle about this.

I can’t say more about my personal thoughts and feelings right now. It was one of those brief but amazing conversations that I can’t stop thinking about. It didn’t lead me to a grand and glorious conclusion, it just revealed aspects of touch I hadn’t been aware of before.

Social touch is extremely complicated and essential to healthy human functioning. I discover, as I research, that the discipline of psychotherapy is beginning to look at the importance of touch as a tool for connection and emotional healing. We know touch can play a role in physiological healing. Touch is an essential part of nonverbal communication. Different cultures have different social rules about touch. A couple of generations of American parents were taught to avoid holding or cuddling infants and children (don’t spoil your child); thankfully, we are changing our beliefs about that now, but that doesn’t help the generations of disbonded and attachment-disordered children who are now adults and struggling. Skin hunger and touch deprivation are a huge problem for elderly populations.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

We also live in a #MeToo atmosphere in which the previously hidden pain of thousands of victims of inappropriate touch is becoming visible. As healing and validating as our recognition and outrage over this kind of abuse is, it leaves many people nervous about giving or receiving any kind of touch from anyone unless it’s sexual (as in consensual between two adults), making us ever more isolated, ashamed, and skin hungry.

I wish I had answers for myself and others, but I don’t. Somehow, we have to find a way forward with healthy boundaries, consent, communication and respect as we honor our deep physical, emotional and neurological need for nonsexual touch.

Sharing hugs. My daily crime.

Crystal Casket by Rowan Wilding

Innocent, yet somehow run afoul of a jealous queen
A sly drop of poison introduced
A taint that could never be erased.
So polluted, then, they built me a crystal casket,
Protecting the world from my touch.
I rise and clothe my outcast body, day by day
Concealing shameful curse
But at night I return naked to my crystal casket.
The moon bathes me in her cool silver milk
Ebbing and flowing like a slow heartbeat in the ravishing night.
I lie with my hands folded on my chest
(Their small warm weight comforts my empty heart)
And watch the sky storm with stars
Galaxies in my eyes.
Neither shroud of rain nor quilt of snow can touch me, shut away
But I love them from within my crystal casket.
No faithful guardian watches over me, a lighted lantern at his feet.
No prince arrives, seeking a poisoned kiss.
I was never black as ebony, red as blood and white as snow.
Now I’m spiderwebbed with age and moon-milk
Cool inside my crystal casket while midnight passions wheel around me
Dark flowers and fruits, musk and nectar, texture and taste and scent

But not for me.