I was still wearing my mask as I drove home from the grocery store. Protective restrictions have begun to lessen in this ninth week, but I feel a continuing threat from a coronavirus that can spread from a cough or a ripple of laughter.
Chemotherapy compromised my immune system years ago, and my lungs remain vulnerable to infection. My mother will be 94 next month. Beloved family and friends live with health conditions that place them at high risk if they contract the virus. Sometimes anxiety can be overwhelming.
A poem by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Japanese poet, once helped me deal with a temporary darkness of the spirit: “The barn burned down. I can now see the moon.”
I spend too much time watching the barn burn. Instead, I will look for the moon.
As I turned onto our block, I saw tulips blooming in rainbow waves along the curving paths of our garden. Last fall, I planted hundreds of bulbs, hoping, as I always do, that the tulips could bring a smile to passersby. In this gray and unsettling season of our lives, we need flowers.
Nature’s beauty rises.
At the grocery store earlier, my tension heightened as I made wide detours around unmasked shoppers. Then the store’s background music bopped into a ‘60’s girl-group classic, “Jimmy Mack,” by Martha and the Vandellas.
The pasta aisle was empty, and my mask muffled my voice, so I sang along quietly, but skipped the Vandellas’ dance moves. For a little while, I forgot to be worried.
From our kitchen window, I watched a boy roller-blading down our empty street, sweeping his arms side to side and smiling at the sky.
Later that day, a little girl, her mother and baby sister stopped on the sidewalk to look at the white blossoms on our plum tree. Last summer, I invited them to pick as many plums as they wanted. Now the little girl studied the white flowers and whispered, “The jamberry tree.” “Summer will come,” I promised her. “The flowers will turn into plums, and they will be waiting for you on the jamberry tree.”
A parade of cars crawled through our neighborhood and slowed in front of a house a few blocks away. Horns honked in quick, cheerful beeps. Maybe a loving parent had arranged this drive-by birthday surprise for a child, isolated at home and missing his friends.
Many local, family-owned restaurants are taking heavy financial hits while they honor the guidelines of our stay-at-home period. Some are looking beyond their own pain. Free dinners once a week, until the day’s food runs out. Free pizza slices for children. Meals delivered to local health care front-liners and nonprofit centers. Donations to area food banks.
I was on the patio, filling big green planters with potting soil for tomato seedlings, when I remembered I’d left my water bottle on the kitchen counter. Outside again, I was ready to dig planting holes in the fresh dirt. “Already on it,” my chief garden staffer signaled. I checked the soil more closely and found a cat’s paw prints and a damp, roundish indentation in the otherwise smooth top. Benjamin BadKitten is fired.
Comic relief rises.
In this anything-but-normal time, laughter can help us remember to look up and be grateful that we can still see the moon.
Sydney Craft Rozen finds joy rising just outside her kitchen window, where red tulips, flamed with purple, bloom in mid-May. Email her at email@example.com