There were towns
that knew about the flu before
it arrived; they had time to imagine the germs
on a stranger’s skirts, to see how death
could be sealed in an envelope,
how a fever could bloom in the evening,
and take a life overnight…
For awhile, the outside world
existed in imagination, in memory,
in books or suitcases, deep in closets.
(From “Quarantine, 1918,”by Faith Shearin, in Orpheus Turning, 2015)
It’s been nearly a year since the word “Covid-19” became a common word in our lives, since every day has been punctuated by another report on daily increases—or decreases– in new cases of the virus and deaths caused by it. We’ve spent much of the past year in various stages of lockdown, social distancing and isolation. As reports of the new vaccines being developed appeared, we began hoping our lives might return to some semblance of normality by 2021. Yet as February begins, reports of the vaccine’s availability in Canada are not encouraging—not yet. Meanwhile, I, like many of you, have friends living in the United States who have happily posted of Facebook, “We’ve been shot!” or written to say, “We’re getting our vaccinations next week…” The effect of their news is little more than a trigger to increased anxiety and impatience. Yet I can do nothing but wait…which is what we’ve all been doing for many months.
We waited through the past months as a second wave progressed, celebrating the holidays alone and missing the annual Christmas fun we normally share with our eldest daughter and family, who live only 15 minutes away. We’ve restricted our movements even more as the reports of a more infectious variety of the virus are even more troubling. We try not to read the routine COVID-19 updates too often nor the reports of countries squabbling over vaccine supplies. Yet it’s difficult to avoid them. Our questions are the same as everyone else’s: how much longer will this pandemic persist? When will we have access to the vaccinations? Will it be effective? What long-term impact will it have on life as we once knew it? The longer the virus persists, the less likely a return to what we took for granted was “normal” life. Still, we wait, and we hope…
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting…
(From “Wait” by Galway Kinnell, in: Mortal Acts; Mortal Words, 1980)
How much of your lives are spent waiting? Like you, I have waited—often less than patiently — on many times—too numerous to remember them all. I waited on the overdue birth of my eldest daughter, and as both daughters became teenagers, I waited more than a few times for them to arrive home well past curfew. I’ve waited in lines for tickets and performances, for doctor’s appointments and medical tests, for surgical procedures, and for packages delayed in transit. But this protracted period of waiting, the memory of “normal” life fading, I feel a little like Bill Murray’s character in the 1993 film, Groundhog Day.
Murray played the part of a TV weatherman who was reporting on the annual celebration of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog whose appearance (or lack of) originated in a Celtic and Germanic celebration. As the legend goes, If Phil appears and casts a shadow on February 2nd, our cold winter is doomed to continue another six weeks; if he sees no shadow, we’ll have an early spring.
In the film, Murray’s character keeps waking up and reliving the same day over and over. Sound familiar? It reminds me of the “sameness” of daily life during COVID-19 , only the boredom is coupled with the tension of waiting for the “all clear” signal, a return to a normal life, and yet uncertain of what “normal” might look like. And all the while, we’re waiting, and waiting, for a vaccine to be available to all of us.
Daily, I feel my own niggling anxiety rise along with a sense of spiritual malaise and boredom as our protracted isolation continues. I try—and not always successfully– to accept and find new ways to master this unnatural state of waiting and to learn from it, just as Murray’s character had to do. I’ve read and reread T. S. Eliot’s words like a mantra:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
(The Four Quartets, 1943)
His words remind me to reconsider why life seems to make us wait. I am still trying to learn to accept what I cannot control, or at least to live gracefully with it, and to let things unfold as they will…but sometimes? It’s just not easy.
- Think about what it means to wait…and wait.
- When you’re living with a heart or other chronic condition and classified as “higher risk” for Covid-19 complications, how has waiting for a vaccination, an end to the pandemic, affected you? Write about how this long period of waiting has affected you. How have you coped?
- We wait many times over in our lives—some of the waits are every stressful; others are, unfortunately, part of daily living. Write about other times in your life when waiting was stressful for you. What was the situation? How did you feel? What happened when the wait was over? What did you learn—if anything—from the experience?
- Borrow a line from any of the poem fragments in this post—or from a poem or other writing that has been helpful or meaningful to you in this time of Covid-19. Use it to begin your writing. See where it takes you.