I’ve lived in California for almost 45 years, coming here when I was 10 years old. For whatever reason, though I’ll forget things I discussed last year with someone, I have a very rich storehouse of memories, nearly a kind of constantly running film in my head, of my life and childhood before California. And though my childhood in California was a fine one as well, I separate the two. Life before CA. Life in CA. It is a curiosity to me that people from some places are identified with place. A New Yorker, for example. A Midwesterner. And, of course, Californians, which I suppose, I am.
The friendships I have here, the life I have here are wonderful-even dreamlike, my wife is a native Californian, my daughter is a native Californian. I’m not. I don’t feel like one, though justly and truly, I am. Place has always meant more to me than ever I could embrace. In my mind, being of a place is a great gift, a kind of identifier that allows us to ground ourselves, even if only for a moment, into something real, practical, right now. In my religious and faith tradition, “we are not of this earth,” and maybe that is as it should be. Yoda said, “Luminous beings are we…” and I think God spoke to that in a number of religious texts as well. But there is a difference between “not being of this earth,” and not engaging on this earth while we’re here.
Just before the pandemic started, I had this uncomfortable feeling that I wanted time to speed up because doing so would mean I’d retire from teaching after 30 years and move north out of California to Washington, a place that my whole family has fallen in love with. I say uncomfortable because I don’t want to wish my days away. I want to live every moment. And then the pandemic came and since March, I’ve simply been feeling time stand still. Life won’t start again until we can get back up and out into the world. In many ways, the tension I feel is the tension in the debate at hand: We cannot afford to stay locked down forever. We will ruin ourselves. It would be nice if we could all just stay home and avoid the world until this went away–but that’s just not going to happen. We will lose everything. We are caught with a very tough decision–either we start turning the wheels of industry again and getting people back to work–or we simply shrivel away into nothing and the suffering that is happening with those who are ill multiplies geometrically into hunger, homelessness, despair and grief–for all.
But returning to a semblance of normalcy is not without risk, certainly. And we’re going to need to be much smarter than we’ve been about it. Time can’t stand still. Time is going on and people are suffering, some from illness, some from loss, some from despair and purposelessness that suddenly appeared revealing how little control we all have. We are left with ourselves as the world turns upside down and begins to feel strange, odd–and frightening. No one can see a year from now. No one can see six months from now. Maybe we’re looking to next month. Spots of hope from approval of good medicine that seems to be working to millions who have had the virus and are healing, getting better. Those stories don’t get told as often as the struggles, the death and the grief. As real as the latter are, there is also the reality that many more have healed and still more never got that sick. How do we reconcile this?
I’m still wishing for time to move ahead, but it’s sheer will on which I’m working. The ever-present low level of anxiety that permeates is balanced by its counterpart that maybe now is a time to stand still, to offer love and hope where we can, to use humor (even dark humor that we all succumb to on occasion) when we feel like crying and to reach out with love when we feel close to despair. Maybe that’s the best way to see each day through-so that as time passes, we do feel it instead of ignoring it. And then perhaps we get a chance to see our own futures rise again, like sunrise-with a healthy dose of lessons learned, love lost and love moving ever and always…