In Linda Rand’s latest Pandemic Diaries entry “Rise Up Like an Animal!,” she ponders our attempt to return to routines during the COVID Delta variant outbreak.
One bright afternoon, I was parking, skeptically watching all the maskless people mingling about, listening to OPB on the radio, and thinking, Hey Portland, I guess we’re doing pretty good? Delta was causing havoc in India, then swept throughout the U.K., South Africa, Asia, the U.S., and Australia. But it still wasn’t in Multnomah County, where we had hit the 70% vaccination rate before the 4th of July. Everyone I knew over the age of 12 was vaccinated. A friend was making a movie and we would soon be gathering for it, people were putting their kids in daycare again, school was scheduled to be in-person, and everyone was socializing and posting about it on social media. Mask mandates were lifted for the first time in 15 months.
The day after filming the movie, I visited with a friend, and she told me that we had 1,600 new cases in one day. “Not the weekend, Linda, one day!” They are mostly Delta. There are breakthrough cases and a person I know says she knew two fully vaccinated people who died. Things are not looking good. Of course, it would be a lot worse without as many people vaccinated. As I write this, we are having yet another heatwave and the moon had a reddish tinge tonight from the fires (but the crickets are still thrumming their beautiful song).
It’s surreal. People are returning to in-person work for the first time in 15 months but, Hello!!! We’re having a Delta spike! Musicians are returning to in-person gigs, marriages are happening, and indoor funerals for people that have died from COVID. I’m so confused. Plus, in-person school is still being planned to start in a couple of weeks. This is while it is projected that we will be 400 – 500 hospital beds short by Labor Day. If you are in a car accident, there may not be care for you. People who are in need of surgery are being deferred at the moment. They are angry. Oregon is setting new records for hospitalizations, and COVID numbers have never been higher.
After being weirdly giddy and excited for a couple of weeks in late July and early August, in which time I met some new and interesting people, received my renewed passport, and bought my first plane tickets (destinations: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, for autumn, while also planning to visit an arts community in North Carolina in November, and eventually family in Estonia!). I’ve again become reunited with my old and dear companion: Melancholy. Will we have another lockdown? Or perhaps instead embrace the chaos of a nation resplendent with mutating COVID? Lambda and Kappa are on watch.
Nowadays, the only thing keeping me going is a lot of creative work, then more work making others’ lives better, or somehow improving things. A couple of days ago, I helped a friend get her plant press working after years of it being out of commission and am now sporting the bruises on my legs to prove it. Lugging that 70-pound behemoth around town, and up and down multiple sets of gnarly steps, made me sweat and groan and let out some of this knotted anguish. It felt good to help solve at least one problem in a world where most problems are so huge that they obscure any solutions. While we pressed tincture, the red fire glow from the apocalyptic sky illuminated our masked faces through the window.
It exhausts the nervous system smelling smoke. The body wants to flee. But it’s the whole West Coast and, really, there’s nowhere to go. The pandemic and global climate change have wrapped the whole Earth up in an intimate embrace. When I stop working, lay my body down, tired and spent at the end of another day, the sorrow comes back like the tide, pouring over and filling me with a moonlit futility that I hope to lose in sleep. Resurrection comes with a new day of work, projects, and meaningful connection.
The animal in me paces, grows restless. It has no time for sorrow. It roams the maps inside my body, lopes along the fields of memory, tracks the wild landscapes within.
The animal in me paces, grows restless. It has no time for sorrow. It roams the maps inside my body, lopes along the fields of memory, tracks the wild landscapes within. The animal in me wants tactile sensation, to be lost in the moment, to curl up with another, rough tongue of affection taking in that mammal warmth. I’m struggling to make existence stable, to co-exist with my impulses and rational mind, to not go off the rails.
One evening, I walked with a friend; my daughter in the stroller, the sky with a pink tinge as the sun began to set.
I said, “I’m so thankful we’re walking together. Normally I’d be melancholy right now, but because you’re here I’m not. There’s something lonely about the evening. I feel the tug of everything that’s lost. But in the morning, I spring up. I’m reborn. I can’t wait.”
My friend said, “I feel the opposite. In the morning, it takes a while just to move. There’s so much dread. The day presses up too close. It’s in my face. At night, there’s a release. It’s over. I can relax for the first time.”
It was comforting to discover that there is an opposite experience, and our friendship does seem complementary. It’s also nice to know that, if I had to choose between the two experiences, I guess I’d prefer my affliction.
I’m not afraid to be close. I relish it; soak it up; witness the personal, irreplaceable details; work with it; collaborate; distill any medicine for the next soul that needs it, the next incarnation. If there’s a way to preserve any gems, I will do that too. Soon enough, this will all be gone. My heart feels bruised from the temporal and in my soul there is the grief of the ephemeral. When I am susceptible, weary, when there is not enough replenishment, I echo in the catacombs of loss, drenched in the amnesia of catabasis. I think about this as I water the plants in the evening, to refortify them for the next oppressively hot day.
Before the pandemic, I would sometimes despair about how messed up our food sources were, our political regime, the darkness of our species, how frightening things could get without the pushback against the loss of culture and our human rights deteriorating, education declining as ignorance became extolled, when only drones would be relied on to pollinate our plants, the same plants that could be genetically modified to not have viable seeds, when summers have 165-degree days, anoxic waters causing hypoxia and dead seas, being charged money to breathe oxygen. As a kid, I’d play chess and it was fun to win, but losing I’d stick it out earnestly until every piece was gone, no moves left, wanting to understand that in-between terrain of endurance.
Is hope similar to perseverance? I wonder. I don’t know. But I’ll do the best I can to stay aware and love the most I can until the last day. If I can make a tiny bit of beauty, revere nature, find the gift for others while accepting theirs, try to heal, well, it’s enough for now. Enough for hope. I still think small things can make a profound difference. Even if it’s simply holding sacred space when it all ends. I am thankful that ecstatic happiness can exist with the deep sorrow I’ve experienced in this temporary dream called life.
Some plants are not wilting but instead are loving this intense sun. The various heirloom tomatoes, grown from seed, are fruiting to the kids’ delight. The zucchini, also from seed, are blossoming in vivid yellow. Broomcorn is nearing ten feet tall as well as one volunteer sunflower with its shaggy, optimistic face fringed with petals. There is a pomegranate tree covered in carnelian flowers that are as frilly as petticoats. When I bought it at the specialty nursery, pregnant with my daughter, I was told it would be too cold in Oregon to ever bear fruit, but I could foresee this weather five years ago.
With every surprising proof of beauty during this apocalypse, every thriving adaptation of nature, the alert animal leaps up within me, bounds through the underworld of self, navigates unerringly through pulsing tunnels of blood, thirsty to emerge out into the night, to be free to see the icy points of stars; everything linked with the generous molecules that bind us all together.