Life remains on hold. Day after day goes by with little to mark the passage of time. Perhaps a little sunshine versus the rain. Maybe the fox passes. Maybe there are chickadees instead of nuthatches. Or perhaps the grass is a little greener, a little longer. But the days blend into each other with little differentiation as I await the slow arrival of Spring. Each day, the news seems bleak. Each day, I reach out to family, friends and fellow cancer patients to check on them, reassure them we are well. And, each day, I try to work a little, try to exercise a little, try to do something new.
But each day, I find the relentless anxiety, grief and uncertainty makes it harder to concentrate. And each day it seems to require greater effort to bring some discipline to my life. Still in pajamas as lunchtime approaches? Check. Sitting around in sweaty workout clothes for hours? Check. Making the bed just before climbing back into it? Check.
As when I was being treated for cancer, part of the challenge is not knowing what is expected now, what will be expected at some point in the future, and when that time might come. Who knew what the next day would bring? Then I wondered if I would recover. Now I wonder, should I use this time to lose those few pounds I am always talking about losing? Or should I indulge in comfort food and endless couch rotations? Should I take the time to relax and consider it a vacation in anticipation of a sharp ramp-up in commitments when the world resumes? Or should I take advantage of the quiet time to be productive with my own projects? Yes. No. All of the above.
The first shelter-in-place week I was so industrious that I knit a blanket. But as the fourth week draws to a close, I find I have barely read 50 pages in a book I am planning to share with friends in another two weeks. I look forward to breaking my isolation to be with friends, if only virtually, but will I have anything to say if I can’t finish reading the book? I am still moving forward, but my pace has slowed to a crawl.
When I was a child, my mother used to read to me a book I remember as Hurry, Susie Hurry. (Sadly, I can no longer find it or be sure of its name.) It was a simple tale of a young girl being hurried by her governess as she made her way through the day, until the governess stepped into freshly poured tar and her feet became so sticky that she could barely move. The image of the steam shovel scraping her off the tar-covered road is still crystal clear in my mind. But what resonates even more today is the sense of moving with tarred feet. I can’t move any faster than I am — I am adhered to the road beneath me.
I try to remind myself that Susie loved it when her governess could no longer hurry. It gave her time to watch a bird land on a water fountain, to pick up a shiny rock that caught her attention, to smile at the sun on her face. Maybe I can just accept that this is not a time for hurrying. Maybe this is a time for collecting shiny stones and sunny smiles, for enjoying the birds, and watching the weather.
More Like Frederick
There is another picture book that I used to read to my own children when they were young, Frederick, by Leo Lionni. Frederick is a field mouse who sits and “gather(s) sun rays for the cold dark winter days” as his mates gather nuts and seeds. But it is Frederick who nourishes his fellow field mice during the winter with his endless supply of memories, dreams and stories.
Maybe my suspended animation is not a lack of productivity, but is a gathering in, in preparation for whatever may be coming next. I’m trying to be okay with that. While my natural tendencies are to be the hard-driving governess, at least for now, I am trying to be more like Frederick.