Don’t Go There

Don’t Go There
Still on the Group W Bench together

It started with a writing prompt a few days ago. Write a scene with no more than four characters that happens in one room. It was a good assignment, but at first it took me to some very dark places before I remember I was in control of this story. I don’t have to go there.

I’ve tried to treat the last month of Sparkling (and, at our house, often smudged) Solitude as a gift of time, but, as many people are finding, worrying about loved ones, finances, and the world of suffering happening beyond our driveway more than dulls the sparkle. As I wrote, I realized that, while my own respiratory issues have kept me off the frontlines but not terribly fearful, Thing1’s nearly fatal history with a chronic illness that makes him particularly vulnerable has caused more anxiety than I like to admit.

My prompt response grew into a story about a family cursed with endless time and a dark choice that might save their firstborn. The scene grew out the worst night of Thing1’s illness, but, in the story, the husband and wife debating their children’s fate begin to fall apart, and I couldn’t figure out how to put them back together. I had written myself into a corner, but, as I took a break to finish cleaning the pantry, I remembered that during that seemingly endless night, the Big Guy and I had not fallen apart.

We had pulled together. 

We may have squabbled briefly about how fast the ambulance would arrive in a blizzard or if the emergency room would do anything we weren’t already doing or if we could even get there. We had nothing but bad options as our firstborn faded on the couch. In the end we did the only thing we could do. Pulling ourselves together as a team, we decided everything and every phone number until there was nothing else to try and Thing1 started to improve. 

That night wasn’t a gift. Thing1’s illness hasn’t been a blessing in disguise. Those challenges were crucibles so hot we sometimes felt our resolve begin to melt, but when that heat abated, hope solidified around our family, forging an infinitely stronger bond. 

So now I’m back to my made-up husband and wife, still at a terrible crossroads with endless time and a horrible illness and choice in front of them. There is a temptation — for the sake of art – to finish tearing them apart. There is the option to treat the endless time and choice as a curse. 

But I don’t want to go there.

Front Row at the Renaissance

Front Row at the Renaissance

I love special education because it’s all about finding the spark in someone and helping it glow. It’s an act of hope informed by evidence. I’m housebound now and spending too much time on social media. The temptation to give into fear or despair is great, but the same internet that serves up daily examples of greed and malfeasances has also recently, for me, been a source of evidence-based hope, fueling optimism, rather than worry over what comes next.

A few weeks ago when the pandemic was still just a probability in the United States, I noticed the occasional half-humorous meme warning that we were about to have front row seats for Armageddon. I laughed nervously at the gallows humor, knowing that, in any apocalypse, my lack of fitness and survival skills will ensure me a spot on the scaffold.

Last week, the pandemic probability morphed into actuality. One news organization and then another reported a sharp spike in gun sales. I wasn’t able to muster a nervous laugh about that story, but it still didn’t convince me that the inevitable next phase will be apocalyptic.

I’ve had the chance to teach Romeo & Juliet twice this school year. Both times I prepared by indulging in a bit of gratuitous research, tracing the history of the play to the various Italian poems and novella that influenced it. My journey through Italian Renaissance lit is never complete without a quick review of Boccaccio’s Decameron (yes, I’m a lit nerd and a sucker for back story), a collection of tales set against the backdrop of the Black Death of the 14th century, told by a group of young Florentines self-isolating in the sparkling solitude of the countryside.

I’ve thought of that book frequently this March.

The Italian Renaissance wouldn’t begin in earnest for another century after the book was published. A number of historians do point to the upheaval caused by the Black Death as one driving force in that movement, but, for me, The Decameron, is, for me, a symbol of one of the seeds sown in a dreadful epoch.

Two weeks ago Italy announced increasing restrictions on movement for its citizens. I remember worrying and wondering how people would react. Italy had good reason to impose the restrictions. Hundreds of people had been dying daily, but good reason doesn’t always illicit the desired response.

Less than a day after Italy announced a nationwide quarantine, however, a video of the residents of Siena playing music on their balconies for each other emerged. I wondered if this was just an outlier, but every day and then every few hours, new videos appeared, each showing Italians playing out a modern Decameron playing music instead of telling stories.

The same stories emerged from Spain and then France. From Ireland came stories of apartment blocks organizing outdoor BINGO.

I wondered how or if people in United States, when faced with quarantines and devastating statistics, would make the same choice. Would we let art and community be our shields?

Then came news of school and business restrictions from my parents’ home in Ohio. Almost immediately a video of two young children serenading an elderly Columbus lady on her porch appeared. Soon after, apparently anticipating the school closures, other teachers and homeschooling moms pro-actively began offering online resources and encouragement. In the next two weeks, from a medium that so often foments division and anxiety, I would instead see and continue to see outpourings of art and photography, soul-feeding poetry and writing, impromptu concerts, and, caremongering.

As the pandemic grows, some people may arm themselves and prepare for an apocalypse. There is another option, though.

The other course of action is the one so many generations before us have taken – it is the choice to get busy rebirthing our souls. It is the decision to use this time of sparking solitude and, inevitably, of profound grief and even fear, to nurture the seeds started by the creative sparks that are connecting and uplifting us.

It is to reserve a front row seat for renewal – for Renaissance – instead of surrendering to the inevitability of a cataclysm.

Me?

I’m not waiting to go back to school to go full-on Special Ed.

I’m going to comb through the piles of evidence from the last few weeks and the months to come, looking for the sprouts that need care and the sparks that need stirring. I’m going to commit acts of hope.

And, based on the evidence, I think I’ll be anything but alone.

Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.

The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.

The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.

By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.

Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.

Sparkling Solitude

Sparkling Solitude

Someone on Facebook wryly observed that, unless you’re socially separating yourself in the Quarantine region of France happy, then you’re really only engaging in sparkling isolation.

I’ve had to segregate myself somewhat from my family since being diagnosed with pneumonia earlier this week. I’m still close enough, however, to be able sit for a few minutes in the cool crisp spring air on the deck.

The grass is slowly getting greener.

The cats and the dog are cavorting in the dappled sunlight.

And two housebound brothers who, by virtue of the wide range in their ages and recent, age-appropriate but painful geographic separations had begun moving in different directions, suddenly have nothing better to do than play a good game of catch and catching up with each other.

If that isn’t sparkling, I don’t know what it is.

Mother’s Little Helper

Mother’s Little Helper

 

Driving by Fields on a Snowy Day

Today was the first time I’d been out of the house since the surgery. I figured out how wrap my cast and get a shower before the Big Guy chauffeured me to my follow up appointment. I’ve been using the enforced break from the activity of daily life to get a better handle on my priorities, but today, trying to get back into it, even just for a couple hours, gave me an unexpected lesson in empathy.

My doctor prescribed Percocets and Ibuprofen for pain management. Paranoid about getting addicted to any opioid, I’m usually pretty pigheaded about avoiding leaning on Vicodin or Percocets. This week, mindful of the kids I now work with whose lives have been completely upended by adults struggling with opioid addiction, I’ve been even more stubborn about disciplining myself to rely mainly on ibuprofen or Orange Tabby Therapy, and I’ve been pretty lucky with the pain.

Until today.

By the time the doctor finished changing my dressing and cast, I could feel my Frankenstein foot gently begin to throb. The Big Guy and I got out to the car, and the pain was amplifying. There were a couple errands to run, and, even though I sat in the car for them, having the foot not elevated seemed to help push the pain up and down my leg.

By the time we got home, the three hours of ordinary activity had turned my leg into a constant throb, wiping out any hint of energy. I got back into the scooter chair and then into bed, knowing I was going to take the opioid and not the ibuprofen.

And then it hit me. Before any relief, before the purring of an orange tabby on my chest could lull me to sleep.

This is where the stories of those kids begin. They begin with a person in pain, with all the best intentions, looking for relief. For help. They may get it for a time until help becomes a disease and the disease a source of shame and judgement.

I’m guilty of passing those judgements. Of seeing only the impact of the disease on the people around the addict. Of forgetting that anyone could become the addict.

I used the help in the orange bottle this afternoon and knew I might use it again this evening. Tomorrow I will go back to the non-addictive pain management with purpose but also a little more humility and empathy. Recovery is not linear, and, in the setbacks, there are potential pitfalls that can upend anyone’s life.

I don’t know what makes the difference between the person who becomes addicted to these miraculous, terrible drugs and the person who uses them for a brief time and moves on. I know I won’t find the answer as I reach for my orange bottles over the next few days, but I’m determined to keep asking the question rather than living in judgement.