Last Thursday, I made a little PSA video for my students, to try to encourage them to stay home, to heed the cautions so they can be part of this great effort to Flatten the Curve. I told them that even if they feel invincible, they should be invincible at home.
Yesterday, I acted like I was invincible at home. I thought I would take a break from walking as my exercise, and do something for the good of the farm, so I went out with a big clipper and a string trimmer, and I attacked a bramble patch up on the top of the bluff. I felt a few twinges in my back, but did I stop? No! I was in-vinc-ible!
But evening, I was in pain. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t lie down, couldn’t walk. I usually try to avoid pain-killers for muscle-type pains because I think pain is a messenger, and if I don’t feel it, I might further damage whatever body part if aching. But I figured I wouldn’t do any damage in my sleep, so I took some ibuprofen, and after trying three different surfaces, I fell asleep on the futon–the fam opened that up for me.
So I am learning something about invincibility. The Old French vincere means “to overcome.” My lower back muscles were overcome, but my sense of sturdy physical dependability has been seriously overcome. I am not invincible, and I need to know my limits. When she leads us in morning yoga online, my friend Yasmin reminds us to find our edges, but not to go past them.
Living life in Exile is about finding our edges. Some edges have been imposed upon us, and bless you for keeping those edges–you are protecting the more vulnerable, and helping to ease the decisions that our health care workers are going to need to face in the coming weeks. But other edges exist for us to find: How much clearing of brush will damage a 52-year-old back. How much time we can spend in a house with small people needing our attention. How much binge-watching of The Office we can do before we start talking like Dwight Shrute. What is the edge of loneliness? What is the edge of anxiety about the future?
Some of my friends have been dealing with the edges in really creative ways. Loneliness and disappointment can’t, perhaps, be cured by walking in the park, keeping a safe distance from others, but it can be mitigated. Anxiety can be mitigated by yoga and meditation, by phoning a friend. The demands of children can be somewhat mitigated by a slight lessening of screen time rules in order to give oneself a break. A sense of inefficacy can be mitigated by reaching out to others through the available technology, by baking bread, by planting a garden.
After all, this whole Exile is about mitigation. Vocabulary.com says this about the word mitigate: “Choose the verb mitigate when something lessens the unpleasantness of a situation. . . . The somewhat formal verb mitigate comes from the Latin roots mitis ‘soft’ and agere ‘todo/act,’ which add to to ‘to soften.’ It is often used with words that indicate an outcome or something harmful.”
Let’s soften. Let’s act. Let’s not pretend we are invincible. This is a time to act upon our softness. Hang in there, Friends. There will be an ending. We just have to live through the middle first. Let’s find our edges–and accept them–and mitigate as much of the trouble as we can.
1. My back feels SO MUCH better this morning!
2. Exile is a good time to make the whole hairdo purple. I might never go back to non-purple hair.
3. All the people who are working in all the ways to mitigate the harmfulness of this pandemic.
4. The world of the woods and the hollow, the creek and the pond, the fields and the sky–all goes on out there as normal. The world turns to spring.
5. Yellow and gold. All those shades: goldfinches turning, Golda the gold-orange koifish, blooming forsythia so yellow they seem to be on fire.
Take care of each other!
“To oppose something is to maintain it.
They say here ‘all roads lead to Mishnory.’ To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.” —Estraven, in The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
“The Messenger of Allah [Muhammed], peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.’” —Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir
Once or twice in a lifetime
A man or woman may choose
A radical leaving, having heard
Lech l’cha — Go forth.
God disturbs us toward our destiny
By hard events
And by freedom’s now urgent voice
Which explode and confirm who we are.
We don’t like leaving,
But God loves becoming.
by Rabbi Norman Hirsh
“Only those who attempt the absurd
will achieve the impossible.”
—M. C. Escher
“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still.” ―Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
“The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
“The earth is at the same time mother, she is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all. The earth of humankind contains all moisture, all verdancy, all germinating power. It is in so many ways fruitful. All creation comes from it. Yet it forms not only the basic raw materials for humankind, but also the substance of Incarnation.” —Hildegard of Bingen
“. . .life is so lifey, but that is going too easy on it.” —Anne Lamott
“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke