This is a meander in two parts, each separated by a few weeks.
The sun rises earlier now, and sets later, but it’s still cold outside. And quiet.
Silent spring nights. Even as everything else about this pandemic kicks my amygdala into overdrive, I’m digging the quiet dark.
I took a walk with my dog outside a short while before writing this sentence, just around my townhouse complex. You could hear the breeze blowing through the budding trees, a distant din of cars, but not much else. I saw two people out walking their pups, and one guy headed up the road with a backpack, going who knows where.
Mostly clear skies, and bright stars, with Venus in particular shining brilliant and massive in the indigo west. The promise of spring still floats in the air alongside the pollen, and despite the cold, something about the night tempted me, made me want to go sit somewhere safe in the dark, sight unseen by neighbours, to watch the stars roll across the sky.
A commentator on an online forum I’m part of noted: this is the Great Introspection for our society, for those lucky and privileged enough to not have to work, to not be in health care, for whom the best thing they can do to speed along this crisis is to stay home. The silent spring nights are conducive to deep meditation in the wee hours.
Appropriate, then, for the countless thousands who now wake up in the dark regularly since this crisis began.
Normally, where I live in my part of Hamilton, Ontario, the rush of the highway is omnipresent, to say nothing of cars, pets, people. Summers in Canada are short, even here in the southernmost part of the country, on the same latitude as northern California, so when the weather warms up, everyone wants to head outside.
During the day, that’s still happening, with a few differences. There’s a big “ROAD CLOSED” barricade on my street leading up to the civic golf course, which itself — despite the appearances of being a public park — is also off limits to trespassers as all city recreational facilities are closed until further notice (under penalty of an $800 ticket should you be caught by police or by-law officers). Our lakefront park is also closed, and our nature trails are regularly patrolled by by-law officers making sure everyone is keeping two metres apart.
Still, people are out and about, some observing social distance, some not, some in masks, some not. The first hour of grocery shopping is reserved now for seniors, with shopping for the rest of us involving lineups with each individual paced two metres apart on lines taped across the ground. Inside the store, we play a strange game of trying to get what we need while staying out of the two metre perimeter around the nearest person.
Nature is regenerating in our collective absence, not everywhere or evenly, because that’s not how the world is, and far from completely, because the majority of greenhouse activity continues, but regenerating nonetheless. A teaser to what is possible if we truly committed.
There are advantages to us staying in longer. The unoccupied trails and golf courses are flourishing. I hear many more birds in the sky during my morning dog walks than I have in the past.
That’s the story of the daytime hours.
At night, there’s no one. Not a soul, except maybe for the odd food delivery driver or shift worker.
This was originally going to be an update to my previous post of a little over a month ago, a new timestamp to show how everything had changed or how nothing had changed. We didn’t know back then how it would turn out. We still don’t. We’re guessing.
Anxiety has been taking over, with too many people in my life thinking this is just a big conspiracy to take over the works and that the only act of rebellion is to break quarantine and put the older people, my aging parents, at risk.
Nearly a week ago, I quit coffee, to help keep my amygdala under control, and only after I’d gotten into arguments with four people online and on the phone. Lately, the government weed is doing a great job in cooling things down quickly.
We’re getting a might twitchy with this lockdown. And the weather’s getting warmer. This will only build between now and the summer.
But the nights…the nights are good. For meditation. For dreaming.
Last night, I dreamed of big crowds at baseball games and long summer walks down the streets of beloved cities under blue skies and a hot sun.
Most nights lately, I dream of road trips with family and flights to faraway places and big hotels filled with travelers. Visits with friends on patios and wooded trails. Letting my dog run happy and free on beautiful farm fields. Feeling the air grow heavy and warm at an approaching thunderstorm.
And everything around me sings with the sweet energy of the promise of summertime and the potential for a lifetime of joy and laughter. Life fully lived and utterly carefree.
Then I wake up, and remember where I am. I’m like “oh right, I’m here again, in this shitty, broken-down universe”.
What would it be like to lose a summer to the indoors? And yet, if you are, again, lucky and privileged, you may have a garden to tend to, a chair to sit on that’s far away enough from the sidewalk that you can enjoy the sun and heat.
Privilege. The cracks and failings of our societal structure that have been pressed open by this crisis cannot go unmended. For many millions of people, the ripple effects of the past few months are yet to be fully felt. There is no going back. “Going back” is the fetish of the privileged who only experienced the good of the system, and little to none of the bad.
Going back isn’t an option. Entropy alone guarantees that.
So, then, what does the world look like going forward?
Two weeks since that last part. It’s now May, and I write at the dusk of the first day above twenty one degrees Celsius. Things have heated up, the curve in Ontario has started to flatten, and there is now talk of the next three to four weeks heralding the end of lockdown, barring a spike in new cases.
I’m sitting now looking out my open window at the blossoms on the tree outside, hearing the chirping of the birds and seeing the fully grown grass now ready to be mowed for the first time this decade.
After I got into it with four of my friends over stupid social media posts, although my normal tendency is to blame myself and give others the benefit of the doubt in any conflict, I saw then that there were some relationship dynamics that weren’t serving me, conversations about some topics best left to others. I simply stopped engaging for a while on anything remotely controversial, or with those who weren’t apt to help me feel better in this time of seeming non-stop mental health crises.
For a while, everything seemed horrible. The feeling of being under siege was palpable. I wiped down all the common touch surfaces of my house — door knobs, fridge and cupboard handles, and light switches — with bleach, and I found myself hyperaware of whenever one of my housemates went outside and came back. I over-ate on the off chance that the food supply chain became the next casualty of lockdown, despite assurances from our leadership that it was safe.
Over time, though, not engaging in pointless social media arguments, combined with going caffeine free for over a week, led to a dramatic reduction in anxiety. Pretty soon, I was even-keel, still with a few moments here and there, but nothing out of what’s ordinary for my neurological makeup.
Looking back at that last paragraph now, though, I’m present to some mind fog. Was I off coffee for one week or two? Did these outbursts truly happen two weeks ago or three? Feels like forever ago somehow, such as been the experience of time lately.
The days went by within this new perception of time. One particularly sunny morning, I took my dog for a walk before most others could wake up and headed down to the neighbourhood across the golf course from where I rent, and I saw these tiny blue flowers growing everywhere.
Siberian scilla, I found out later, blooming only in the springtime and existing the rest of the year as…well, grass.
There are waves and waves of them growing throughout my part of Hamilton. I learned they’re considered an invasive species in some places, but it was something, for the last week or so, to wake up every day and behold the seas of these little flowers here and there in my part of town.
I think it was during one of those scilla contemplations that something else happened, possibly related but occurring as a separate phenomenon in my experience: I got used to this normal. I got over the hump.
Wearing a makeshift mask every morning and afternoon walking my dog? Normal. The second of two grocery store trips under the new distancing rules? Much calmer and even enjoyable than the first. These past few days, I even stopped aggravating myself over other people not following distancing rules.
Even today, seeing social media pictures of crowds of people in Brooklyn parks or LA beaches, protesters right here in Ontario spurred by social-media fueled conspiracy manipulation hanging out at Queen’s Park in Toronto, apparently avoiding police charges despite flagrantly breaking distancing rules…I’m just not all that focused on them. I dismiss them all.
In front of my street in Hamilton, people are walking and enjoying the day, some masked, some not, but all at a distance, and all calm. The sense of alarm and menace of a few weeks ago is gone and replaced by a calm, reasoned optimism that maybe the vast majority of people whom we don’t see trending on Twitter are doing the right thing and that everything is working despite the dumbfuckery of a few loud idiots. Isn’t that usually the case?
Edgar Cayce had said that the best prophecies are the ones that don’t come true. The response to COVID-19 is in that category. No matter who’s in charge, now matter how culpable or innocent they may be in actuality for how this has all gone down, the pandemic response is a Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario unlike anything today’s leaders have faced before.
Put simply, if the pandemic ends and many thousands of people live because of the measures, we’ll blame our leaders for “overreacting”. If the pandemic persists and many thousands more die, we’ll blame them or not doing enough.
The thing about debating any issue is that you assume that your opponent is arguing in good faith, at least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. The underlying assumption is that if one of you presents superior reasoning or undeniable evidence, reason demands that the other person concedes and accepts the new reality. That doesn’t happen too often these days.
Conspiracy-prone people will see plots and agendas everywhere as verily as a hammer sees the world as an assembly of nails, and don’t distinguish between a misdemeanour ticket and a fascist takeover. Self-centered people who don’t care if someone else’s grandma or parent dies so long as they get their way latch onto the bullshit floating around online to justify getting to fulfill their own wants. There’s no reasoning with them.
Anyway….for these and other facts of human behaviour that never change and aren’t apt to during or after this crisis, I’m doing my best to avoid the politics of it wherever possible and go back to my mantra from earlier in the year: watch just enough news to be informed, then turn it off and go about your day. Dodge the pendulum when it swings your way. No need to play Monday morning political quarterback on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the scillas have started to wilt and drop their pods, and the cherry blossoms are flowering in their pink glory, hearkening the second half of spring.
And meanwhile, the most overlooked part of this crisis remains: over half the human race closed the global economy and moved themselves inside to help protect the most vulnerable of our members and those who treat them. As a few commentators have said, taken as a single act, it is the most compassionate thing we’ve ever done as a species. Why can’t that be as big of a context for the conversation as the failures?
Starting tomorrow, the temperatures drop back down to below seasonal, and we start the week with a a sense of optimism that is normal for the spring, but made sweeter by these past nearly two months of pandemic transformation and this one day of warmth.
I don’t want the world to go completely back the way it was. I want these quiet nights and the cleaner air to continue beyond the reopening. I want a basic universal income and a robust public healthcare system.
The sun’s about an hour away from setting, nice and late. A dusk walk with my dog is in order on this lazy Sunday evening, with a bright waxing moon overhead and long translucent tissues of cloud being the only thing between us and the sight of the stars.
It’s strange to think ahead to the spring and summer under these circumstances, to all the plans I had before. It’s a mixed bag of the still-possible and the unlikely.
Softball with my team and taking in a Jays game together. Taking up martial arts for the first time since I was a teen. Planting a garden. Changing my car’s oil with my dad. Going randonauting in a group across the countryside and maybe calling down a UFO or two.
Going on a dinner date on a hot summer night with a remarkable woman with no attachment to any outcome, no agenda but good food and fun and deep conversation and a memorable night in the city.
A trip out east to the Maritimes or Newfoundland, maybe across to Ireland.
Rescuing another pup for Bella and writing a new novella every two months.
These were some of my plans.
What can happen and what cannot or shouldn’t during this pandemic year? What’s lost forever and what is still a viable, reachable future?
What new surprises lie ahead in the warmer months and will they be terrible or terrific?
What will the world look like when the scilla bloom again in 2021? What will I look like? Will I or any of us still be here, recognizable to ourselves?
The answers to those questions will come soon enough. For now, though, for however long they will last, I have these quiet nights.
Jody Aberdeen is an author, ghostwriter, and blogger. His latest novella, Red Brick, is available on Kindle. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his dog Bella, three housemates, and a collection of nice plants, all of whom are eager for the summertime.