“Staring out the window counts. It absolutely counts,” our writing instructor told our class.
I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Staring. Staring at objects in my house that bring me comfort. Staring at my husband and son with deep-felt appreciation that they are healthy and here with me. Staring at clouds that recent rains have brought to crisp clear skies. And, I’ve begun to realize there’s something to this staring into the horizon.
Since social distancing has become the norm, things are quieter, like in times past. There’s less air and street traffic and less noise. The chirping of birds is more distinct. It’s easier to hear wind chimes clinging and the ribbiting sounds of frogs. When I take walks through the neighborhood and I gaze into the distance, I also notice more families walking together and more kids on bikes than usual. And, I’m transported back to a time in my childhood during the 1970s when I used to idly ride my bike up and down the street and circle into various driveways in our neighborhood.
Idly. Now that’s a perfect adverb. With no particular purpose, reason, or foundation. As Americans that image typically forms a negative connotation. We like to be active. We prefer to move with purpose. However, many of us writer-types have learned to think differently. This time spent staring. Is it truly idle time? Why do our actions have to have a specified goal?
If I allow myself time to return to that feeling of being a young girl, riding my bike through the neighborhood, I give my body an opportunity to relax. Thus, I give my emotions an equal opportunity to surface. And, tears begin to flow as I write. But, that’s OK. They are tears of grief. Because as a nation and as a world—we are grieving. So much has changed for us in the past few weeks. Due to the rise of COVID-19, not only are we grieving a loss of life, but also we are grieving a loss of what was once familiar.
As the coronavirus pandemic has creeped into our hometowns, it feels as if everything has changed. And, as humans we are grieving for our connection to each other. Our freedom to reach out and touch and to embrace. We are also grieving for freedom from a certain type of fear. Instead, we wonder: Who will be the next to become ill? Who will be the next to die?
In my own circle of family, I’ve been dealing with this type of Russian-roulette feeling for quite some time. Several of our cherished family members are nearing the age where it’s only natural for them to enter into the final stages of their lives. However, it’s never easy. No matter how we try to prepare ourselves, when we love and lose, it’s never easy.
I suppose that’s why idle time seems so poignant to me right now amidst this coronavirus crisis. Because it’s in the idle moments that I have to face my fears head on. When I’m not otherwise occupied, I have no choice but to grasp the reality of what I’m seeing and hearing and learning as things are evolving hour by hour. The headlines are saturated with breaking news related to the pandemic. Large numbers of people are becoming ill. There is a shortage of test kits. A shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers. A shortage of ventilators. As of yet, there is no vaccine to stop the spread. Healthcare officials are urging us to social distance as a means of slowing the spread of illness. They want to try to give hospitals a chance to catch up with the rising numbers of patients. Unfathomable numbers of people are dying.
In my own life, it feels as if the tsunami rolled into town early in the morning of March 8. I received one of many dreaded phone calls. My father had a headache. When the phone rang again hours later at 4 a.m., and my purse was on my shoulder as I was heading out the door to the airport, I knew. I knew from then on my life would be forever altered. I just didn’t know how very much it would be altered in the coming weeks. I didn’t know that my mom would soon be quarantined. Thank goodness I was able to hug her and to allow her to sob against my shoulder before that happened.
I didn’t know that neither my mom nor my sisters nor I would be able to attend my father’s burial. It’s still not known when we’ll all be able to gather together again for a memorial. I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t be able to hug my two oldest children. Instead we know that one living across the country has been exposed to COVID-19. She’s eight days out. We’re all holding our breath to see if she can get through the next week without developing symptoms.
As I write, I continue to stare out the window as the sunset is fading and darkness moves in. I remind myself that the sun will return at dawn. And, I can’t help but recall a scene from, “The Hiding Place,” in which a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp chooses to find hope in the birds that she hears chirping each morning. Likewise, I too, am choosing to be hopeful.
It’s the beginning of spring. Tomorrow’s weather should be sunny. Maybe I’ll have time to sit outside and be warmed by the sun’s rays. Time to discover shapes in the clouds. Time to listen to birds sing. Time to be idle. Time to think. Time to let my emotions surface. Time to grieve. Time to talk on the phone with friends and family. Time to reflect. Time to spend with my husband and son at home. Time to soak up friendship and love and so much of what brings me comfort.
Denise Cesolini is a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 31 years. Their older two children, Bryan and Jenny, are already launched. They reside with their youngest son, Brent, in Poway.