Reflecting on how to reinvent, to conjure new dreams within the framework we are living, is pandemic life. I prize solitude, but some days, I feel weariness as time hangs heavy like the humid air outside my window. Friends tell me they also grapple with finding meaning. Independent as they are, this time challenges their self-sufficiency. I feel very isolated, one woman said. Another walks in the woods by herself, calling it her outdoor church.
Purple hydrangea, blue-green hosta. When I cannot garden, I write. When I cannot write, I read. Before the heat of the day, I take Lily for a drive. A goal, a purpose, a little adventure, anything, consumes my days. At the park, Lily and I follow the path leading to a church cemetery. Small American flags by granite tombstones flutter in summer breezes. One headstone reads. You left us far too soon. Ours is not to question why. Only God knows.
When I return home, my copy of Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author, aviator and champion of women's concerns, catches my eye. Its cover of sea water and sand appeals on a hot summer day. I page through it. One passage stands out. Lindbergh writes: I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily—like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity. She goes on to lament the endless commitments, duties and errands of wife, mother and friend. Although the book was written more than sixty years ago in another time and place, the words resonate with philosophical meditation.
Now, with this pandemic, many of us face fewer commitments. In Julys past, I traveled. Now, my dream to see the world is on hold. Publishing my new memoir feels less urgent in a Zoom-world. I taught in public libraries and held workshops. Not such a good idea right now. Virtual lacks intimacy.
Simplify means to breathe easier, reduce stress. Buying clothes? Not needed except for the basics. Doing more with less. Lilies on a pond and sunlight in green water offer reflection this summer. My simple shell and its bare beauty tell me to cherish this strange time. As Lindbergh writes: "In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life."
July is bittersweet. I was born in July and memories abound. I remember childhood July 4th celebrations. We kids decorated our bicycles with red, white and blue crepe paper. Playing cards attached by clothespins to the spokes of our wheels made a neat flapping sound as we pedaled in parade to the elementary school playground and open fields of Queen Anne's lace. Potato sack races, awards for the best decorated bike, my mother in her bright yellow sleeveless dress, all pass in the rear view mirror of time.
This July a friend emails. I want a refund on 2020, she jokes. Haha, me too, I respond. Except, there are no refunds on time. Time is what we make of it. If ever there was a moment to carry the simple, bare shell, this is it, I suppose. The neighbor and I chat about our love for dogs and her longed-for getaway with family, coming up this week. I don’t care if it rains. I just need to get away, she sighs. No restaurants, no beach, we have a pool at the house, we’re cooking each night. The simple is bliss.
Each day brings new challenges, new relationships, new memories. I look up at a summer sky with billowy clouds and take it in. Family, friendship, faith, moments of being. The tides shift and change. Nothing is permanent. I carry my simple shell. I remind myself to appreciate its bare beauty with gratitude and acceptance.