Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash
Everyone has heard it before, the old Chinese curse. “May you live in interesting times.”
And the times have never been more “interesting.” Not in my lifetime, anyway.
First there is Covid19. Then the police in Minneapolis murder yet another black man and my city goes up in flames. Now homes near me are being threatened—“We’ll burn you in your sleep”—for having Black Lives Matter signs in their yards.
At this writing Covid19 is responsible for over 400,000 recorded deaths around the world. Well over 100,000 of those are in my country. Far more than 1,000 have died in Minnesota, my state. All those numbers are still rising.
And who can begin to count those other deaths, the ones that come directly or indirectly from our country’s deeply ingrained racism?
Most disheartening of all, this human suffering has become yet another political football. If we ever had the capacity to pull together in a time of crisis in this country, we have certainly lost it now.
And yet—here comes my confession—I wake each morning into gratitude.
Why? Because I wake to this world, a world that holds us all, holds such pain and holds such comfort, such sweetness, such heart-rending beauty.
In the first days of the Covid19 crisis, I stood one morning in my shower and said to myself, “At least for today, I have hot water.”
“At least for today, I have good work waiting.”
“At least for today, I have the privilege of breath.”
And I have repeated those words every morning since.
There are others out there, of course, too many others, whose today is much more difficult than mine. They don’t have hot showers. They don’t have work. Sometimes they don’t even have breath.
But how can I help them by failing to rejoice over all that has been given to me, if only in the quiet of my mind?
I bought a new home a year ago, a strange thing for an octogenarian to do, but I did. And last summer our sprawling yard was grass and sunshine—too much grass, too much sunshine—and mosquitoes. We looked out on it with pleasure but could hardly step outside.
This summer we have a screened gazebo and rain gardens and baby lilacs and forsythia and ferns and lots of young, trees. Red bud and crab apple, clump river birch and balsam and cedar, a lovely honey locust. Our yard has become a paradise of chickadees and cardinals and downy woodpeckers and goldfinches and bluebirds! I’ve never had a bluebird in my yard before. Ever. And they came to nest in the bluebird house my partner put out for them.
Safe at home, forced to be safe at home, glad to be safe at home, we have luxuriated in our small, green paradise of birds.
Then the house sparrows came. They bullied the downy woodpecker out of the house he was preparing for his mate. Then they moved on to kill one of the adult chickadees settled into another house. They killed a naked baby, too. After which they flew off, taking their murderous ways with them.
“Our” bluebirds were still there, though, still flying back and forth, carefully, carefully, carefully tending whatever family they had begun. (We didn’t dare peek.)
And then one day they were gone, the bluebirds and all the rest of the colorful choir that had kept us spellbound. All, all gone.
When my partner peeked—she’s the bird woman in our family—she found a nest with two perfect blue eggs. Only that.
This time we don’t know where to place the blame. Some raptor, perhaps, taking care of its needs as we take care of our own three times a day. (I have more sympathy for raptors than for sparrows, though I know that the sparrows never asked to be brought to this place.)
So . . . this is the world we live in. All of us. A beautiful world, an abundant world, a miraculous world. A world in which even birds maraud and kill.
A world in which a virus is just another form of life, struggling to survive.
Still . . . I wake each morning knowing I can never sing sweetly enough, persistently enough, loudly enough to match the largess of my days.
Even in isolation, even in pain and loss, my song can never be enough.