I wrote this in late spring earlier this year. I keep coming back to it. I thought I would share.
When the stores shut down, I wasn’t one of those people who grieved for a sense of life lost. I joked that I was thriving: meditating every day, jogging around the block, practicing mindfulness. My stress zits went away.
After being instructed to stay home, it became clear that limits are good for me. In the pre-quarantine days, when (theoretically), I could travel anywhere, see anyone, do anything — I often felt trapped or paralyzed by the potential in every morning (and the expectation to “make the most of it”). So well-defined constraints like stay-at-home orders became lifelines in a freewheeling, ever-expanding world. All I needed to worry about, the mindfulness meditation reminded me, was that which was immediate: inhales and exhales of clean air, grass tickling bare feet, birds chirping or a dirt bike roaring from two streets over. It’s easy to feel easy in the backyard when the sky is blue in all directions, when barbeque smoke wafts over from the neighbor’s grill round dinnertime.
“They’re deporting children and not telling their families,” my mom reads out the headline, “during a pandemic.” And our phones ping out another alert: if the country had followed warnings and shut down a week earlier, 36,000 people wouldn’t have died. A squirrel rustles beneath the pine trees.
I feel guilty for yet protective of the small, personal joys I built during a time of collective suffering. And I’m scared of conflicting fears:
[that I’ll lose (this joy I’ve found] is naive and ignorant)
Pain is happening all around. But I’m in the backyard and I’m breathing and the sun is warm on my skin. Perhaps enveloping oneself in the present — in the senses and their interpretations of reality — is a kind of escapism of its own.
When we receive dispatches from outside our fences, the news makes me shake. The injustices committed in the name of re-establishing “normalcy” are almost inconceivable. The essential lives of the nation are those most neglected. And this backyard calm that I bury myself in is impossible for so many.
In a country claiming to be a global superpower, why is it a privilege to not worry about how I’m going to eat? To jog around the block without being gunned down? To taste fresh vegetables and drink clean water? Why do we call basic standards of living “privilege” instead of calling the baseline reality what it actually is: abject and unacceptable horror?
I’m terrified that I only feel calm when I stop paying attention, when I drop out of society and pretend I end at suburban fences. I’m terrified that there’s no way to participate in our country’s socioeconomic and cultural systems without ending up broken, pained or compromised somehow. I’m terrified that happiness and awareness seem incompatible — and I’m terrified that it took me so long to realize this is how it’s always been for so many people in America.
I sit in a lounge chair in the backyard and breathe in, feel new energy enter my body, breathe out, feel it leave. Outside the fence, the country rages near-apocalyptic.
There’s a sense of unease throughout the world — but why is this place (this place I’m implicated in via passport, via birth) not only refusing to take care of its neediest people, but actively sacrificing them? Restaurant workers and joggers and cleaning staff. American reality has become anticapitalist propaganda: we throw bodies into the fire of progress and pretend not to smell the funny smoke, the lingering metallic notes of singed flesh.
Did the birds ever chirp like this before? Did the grass ever grow so sharp? I swear the sun’s been burning harsher lately. My skin smarts pink like I’m at the equator. There’s no smog to shield us now. The gray urban veil is lifted. (And is it just me or is the world so vivid these days?) Someone’s gone and painted extra white onto the pear blossoms, the eviction notices.