I step out of a steaming shower and wrap myself in my favorite thick cotton robe and fold my damp rosemary scented hair into a terry towel. The low golden rays of the setting sun are filtering through the early spring canopy of tender new leaves on the maples in the front yard. The window is open, and I lean against it, my arms folded in my robe against the slight chill still in the air. There’s a Cardinal hopping around on the deck, a bright cherry spot amid the chittering squirrels and the crows—who are heard, but not seen—in the tall oak trees lining the side yard.
The steam from my shower is gently floating out the window, and each time I exhale I can see the current and eddys of my own breath carried on the steam. How precious each breath is, how delicate and fragile everything feels right now. I’m not thinking anything, only pausing for a moment in this surreal eternal round we are currently on, and giving thanks.
Today is…a day. I don’t know for sure. I could go look at the calendar–and I have a better sense than many because my schooling continues, albeit from home. While it was probably the worst possible timing for me to take an overload of graduate level law courses, it’s a grain of inconsequential sand to the pile of mattresses on life’s lawn at the moment.
What I know about today is that I woke suddenly from a dream in which Bean was dressed in his sparkly jumpsuit and tuxedo jacket, as though leaving for something special, telling me “Mom, wake up.” and I did. Abruptly. Sleep, like everything, had its own rhythm and beat now. It doesn’t really matter what time it is, I am awake. Sometimes it’s 3 am. Sometimes it’s another time. Unless I have a class, it’s irrelevant.
I padded downstairs in my sock-feet (what are shoes?) to find Bean, awake with Tiberius snoring soundly in the bed next to him. He wasn’t at all surprised to see me. He wanted to watch the sun rise. So we put on our masks—as responsible people do today—and we walked up the street so we could watch the sky gradually turn pink and gold and melt into Robin’s egg blue.
Somewhere between then and now, I attended a class and a study session, planned for an upcoming final, baked a loaf of crusty-chewy sourdough bread (my bread game vibes, to quote my kids) and everything-bagels that I mailed to a friend who was lamenting their ability to get good ones. I hope mine are good. Probably mailed home-made bagels have a little magic around them and will be good no matter what.
Tiberius has relocated his snoring to my office, and the floor is shaking with his rhythmic big-dog sleeping. Jon is also snoring from the next room, where he laid down with a headache after an entire day of zoom meetings and conference calls. Repeat in millions upon millions of homes across the county. And we’re among the lucky ones, because both of us can keep working this way, disorienting though it may be. Their breathing brings me comfort, too.
As a person with autoimmune disorders, I have always been aware of the fragility of my breath. I fight daily with anxiety, because the perfect storm for me is a virus that threatens in this way. I have been hospitalized with pneumonia. More than once. I have scaring that shows up every time I have a CAT scan or MRI, and the doctors have to reference old charts while I reassure them that yes, those marks there on the left are always there. Only now, it seems like its not just my particular fears that this virus knows and exploits, but potentially dozens of others, too.
So we do what we can, which feels pitifully small and fragile. We stay home. We wash carefully. We keep our distance from everyone. We tip our service workers heartily, because we can, and we are grateful we have enough to share. We try and have extra patience with each other, and we apologize when we inevitably fail and the cocktail of anxiety and stress, boredom and powerlessness, fatigue and insomnia all eventually boils over and the hot steam whistles like my grandma’s old yellow tea kettle.
Steam is so fragile in the air. It looks like nothing, really. It’s just vapor, floating away through the open window while I watch the Cardinal hop to the low hanging pear bough. Steam looks like nothing. Until the kettle is left on the fire too long. Unless the valve isn’t thrown for safe release. Unless we try and keep it all in. Unless we dont exhale.
There is so much out of our control. It’s always true, we just can’t whistle past it now. Remember to look out the window. Go for a walk at dawn with your kid. Watch the sun rise. Listen to your dog snore. Find a moment or two of solitude, or camaraderie—whichever your heart needs. Keep breathing friends. And dont forget to exhale.
Stay safe. Stay home if you can. Wear your masks if you must go out. Wash your hands. Be kind to each other. Tip well if you can. Be kind to yourself.
If you feel like it, tell me how you are.