It’s been one year since the world locked down due to covid-19. For this week’s HIAS, I wanted to share a piece I wrote almost a year ago. It strikes me as more relevant than it was the day I wrote it because even after a year of this, I look around and think: we still haven’t learned.
They tell me that the answer to uncertain times is found in stillness. That all I am and all I need is in there, humming. A motor run on calm. And so I sit. And wait. I breathe and chant and wait and sit. And wait. And wait.
Where are the answers?
It’s been months of stillness in Vancouver. On March 14, I led a workshop before joining a few friends for a drink in a sparse, still-open bar. Toilet paper supplies were just dwindling. Only a handful of businesses voluntarily shut down. Notices taped onto closed front doors shone bright white in the spring sunlight. Until April 1st, they said. See you in two weeks.
The notices are fading now, sunbleached and brittle. Plants sit parched and begging behind shuttered windowpanes and every time I walk by them, I want to put my fist through the window out of rage frustration boredom and grab them by their stems and take them home and feed them and nurse them and love them back to life. I want to snip their brown stalks and soak their dusty soil and wait and hope and wonder if they will sprout again, if they will renew. I want to wonder if I have done enough to save them.
I want anticipation. I want that moment when a baby green bud appears on a thirsty twig. I want to look forward to it, to covet it, to feel the burst of joy followed by the satisfaction of relief. Because anticipation brings aliveness. And in world dictated by COVID-19, there is no anticipation. Those of us who aren’t fighting the virus are confined to a life in which there is nothing on the horizon, nothing to plan, and not an ounce of FOMO to be found. One day begets the next begets the next begets the next.
Stillness all around.
It’s been long enough now that I’ve baked what I’ve wanted to bake. I’ve crafted what I wanted to craft. I’ve been tipsy out of principle. And spite. I’ve watched Tiger King and Too Hot To Handle, played video games and board games. I picked a fight with my partner over taking the garbage out and then screamed into a pillow. I’ve walked. I’ve cried. I’ve called friends once, twice. By the third time, we’re out of things to say. “What’s new?” doesn’t do much to spark conversation these days.
I get the most melancholy around 9:30 p.m. when there is nothing to do but wind down before bedtime. I am the sort that needs to take an hour between the end of a long day and crawling into covers. In the past, this was a ritual to look forward to, a precious hour of reading or Netflix in which there was no room for guilt over what was or wasn’t accomplished during waking hours. Because there was always tomorrow. In between the calls and emails and dinners and gym and appointments and flights and meetings and lunches and birthdays and vacations and celebrations, life would be accomplished.
Now, 9:30 p.m. is no longer a reset. Instead, it is a reminder that we do this again tomorrow. Exactly this. Maybe the food is different and the music changes but ultimately, it is all just another lap around a clock. Time is a flat circle. I understand, now. A new recipe to try or a new podcast to listen to or those leggings I ordered that I certainly don’t need are all just some primal need to look forward to something, to work for something, and to mark the passage of time through the burst of release upon completion.
That release, it seems is the mark of life itself. It is the pang of hunger and the satiety of a meal. It is the clamor of war and the silence of peace. It is the despair of grief and the boundlessness of love. It is a baby green bud on a thirsty twig.
And it is gone.
What is left when it is all stripped away? What is that unsettling feeling at the intersection of knowing I have everything I need right now — food, water, shelter, toilet paper, health — and wanting to burst, to run, to click my heels and beg for a global do-over? What is in that barely perceptible moment in between when my eye catches a dying plant behind an empty store window and the primal urge to put my fist through the glass? What is in the space between my changing reflection, lean muscle morphing into softness, and the one who is watching? Or when I watch the bubbles dance as the kettle comes to a boil for the fifth time today? Or when my partner’s beard scratches my cheek at 9:31 p.m. as we settle onto the couch, just like it did yesterday and the day before and the day before and the day before?
It is stillness.
That’s what they mean, isn’t it? It is not boredom. It is not depression. It is not restlessness. It is what’s left in the absence of anticipation when there is no agenda left to fulfill. It is not something to wait for. Nor can it be commanded to appear. It did not arrive with coronavirus. It has been here all along.
But it is only now that I can feel it pulsing, its rhythm never changing. Thump thump thump. Louder louder louder with each go around the flat circle. I spent so many years trying to make peace the stillness and now I see it’s here. I want to sit with it and leave it and run away and come back again endlessly until time unfurls from the circle and days plump once again. I want the stillness to fill me like a thick sip of Barolo over conversation with an old friend, to soothe me, comfort me, hold me through this. I want to fall in love with it, to protect it. To understand that while it is precious it is also the strongest force on Earth. It is that which can never be stolen or destroyed. Stillness is the hum of all we are, the foundation that all we know is built upon.
It is all we have. And it is here.
And here. And here.