Dear hearts –
For my birthday, I received some things I’ve wanted for a very long time: The supplies to make wax seals on envelopes. Now, with my fountain pens, my spiffy paper, and envelopes, I can write letters the way I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been very excitedly practicing.
One of the brass presses I received brought me up short. It’s a sprig of rosemary, the herb of remembrance, often used on condolence cards, or simply in honor of anniversaries.
I’d been intending to write this week’s Reflections on the topic of anniversaries and how so many of us are feeling the keen edge of one-year anniversaries over the last couple of months. And there’ll be more, going forward. So what you see, that strange green blot, is my first attempt, a mark of rosemary reminding us (as though we could forget, just now) that this is a time of remembrance. I am sealing my loveletter to you.
Last year on Leap Day, what would be this past Monday, was the last time either my wife or I left the house just to do something fun, Just fun. Julie went to the coast to have a day by herself, a day to recharge and let her little introverted heart be restored by the water, the wind, and the rocks.
She went to the coast—specifically the archly named Cape Disappointment—and got to see the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, the waves break themselves against the cliff faces, and that holy place, the site where the river meets the sea. She went there, just to be with herself for a day, just to have some time with the natural world that gives so much, of which we are a part and never separate, but which we cordon off in our experience.
Soon enough after that, people in the coastal towns asked folks not to come and visit. While it would mean a loss of income for most of the landlords and retailer establishments in the towns, they simply don’t have hospitals nearby. They don’t have the infrastructure to handle a bunch of people who are gravely ill. And we didn’t know, just yet, what the pandemic was going to look like.
Oregon has been lucky. I was sure that between the hammer of Washington and the anvil of California, our numbers would be much higher than they have been. Nonetheless, we remain fourth-lowest in almost every measure, from COVID transmission through deaths. But every life is a life. Every person has a story. From the first infant we lost – just last week – to all the elders in congregate living who have died, there are stories. Memories of one kind or another. If not their own, then those of their parents, children, friends, communities, families, or caregivers.
I consider all the strangenesses of the past year. Masks. So much hand washing. Staying apart from people or figuring out ways that feel safe enough to see them. But especially masks.
Masks, above all other things about this time, are the strangest, those bits of fabric and fiber that keep us from seeing one another’s whole faces. Masks that remind me to make sure that my genuine smiles reach my eyes so that folks really know that I mean it. I know my cheeks show my smile, but one can never be sure if a smile is genuine if it doesn’t reach the eyes, you know?
And it is masks and social distancing and hand washing and the flu vaccine – remember, we got those! – that mean that we’ve seen cases of the flu plummet this year. By wearing masks, we have protected ourselves and one another. From now on, when we’re sick, more of us will wear masks when we go out into the world, that’s for sure.
And I still have to ask, what are the costs?
My father, when he sat on English Department committees, was forever asking, “At the expense of what?” He was keenly aware that when we say yes to something, we’re almost always saying no to something else. Many of us – most of us where I am – have traded certain kinds of closeness for physical health. We stay home. We get things delivered and (I hope!) tip the drivers well. We make calculated decisions about what time to pick up the groceries and whether to let our partners cut our hair, go to a salon, or just do it ourselves.
We know that isolation is bad for humans, especially for kids. We know that too much screen time isn’t great. We know all over our bodies, the prickle and coolness of skin hunger, even those of us who do not live alone. We know that our kids are losing their minds. We know that our kids are losing our minds.
I remember when one of our comrades was training as a social worker, and he was learning about pandemics. A stalwart fellow, even he seemed scared by the possibilities, of what could be, should the world be devastated by pandemic. Too little commitment to public health. Too little infrastructure. Too many varied approaches. Too much possibility for variation and mutation in viruses. Too much. Too many.
Not enough coordination among states. Not enough clear guidelines for where the federal government has jurisdiction and where things are left up to the states. People who believe all kinds of… well, nonsense… that could leave them (and thus, the rest of us) at great risk of infection, illness, and death. The picture he painted was not pretty. And he only painted part of the picture. He spared us.
But where are you now with all of this? I know several of you who receive this love letter who have been sick. And let me say how grateful I am that you remain among us. Some of you, though, months after your first diagnosis, have mysterious, persistent symptoms that remain. And I’m sure there are many others among this group who have had it, many more.
I know a handful of folks who’ve had people in their families and friend networks die this year. One who was unable to be with her father when he died. Others who are delaying memorial services and celebrations of life and funerals until…when?
How are you in these times of anniversary? These moments of remembrance? These times when I wish I could give you a sprig of rosemary for remembrance?
For those of us who have elected to be SUPER careful, how are we? I miss hugs from my friends like I cannot say. Oh, I miss them. But I am also oddly grateful that my main means of connecting with friends – Zoom – has become normal. I’m grateful that I am transcontinentally connected with people I love and work for and with. But yes. Hugs. Oh yes, hugs.
So the green blobby bit with the little impression of leaves on it is rosemary for remembrance, the very first of my wax seals, offered for you as a seal of love on this missive.
Know that I am thinking of all of you, and I wonder how you are, how we all are, in this season of anniversaries. Drop me a line?