Comfort & Joy

A respite from the madness.

THIS PAST WEEK HAS BEEN, for non-covid- and non-Trump-related reasons I won’t get into, a bad one for me personally. I’ve had to rely on the support of my friends and family more than usual, and their love and support has sustained me, as have the kind words I’ve gotten from my readers. My heart swells with gratitude.

It hasn’t helped that the actual news has been so bleak—even though I know, from having ridden this roller coaster for three-plus years, that the bleakest moments always indicate a pendulum shift to something better. Even so, things feel more desperate, more uncertain. Yet another racist cop murdered a defenseless black man, while his colleagues watched, while horrified bystanders took video. Protests in Minneapolis escalated to property damage, almost certainly started by out-of-towners and plants, by the way, to make it look worse for propaganda purposes:

Police arrested a CNN crew. Donald John Trump tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a call to violence so brazen that Twitter labeled it as such.

All of this as the American death toll from covid-19 hit triple figures.

This week, “God” tweeted out an accusation that Trump had murdered his personal assistant, Carolyn Gombrel—strangled her to death. Reading this, I was pretty sure it was a clever way of critiquing Twitter for not shutting down Trump’s own tweets accusing Morning Joe talking head Joe Scarborough of homicide, but I wasn’t positive. (Note: it’s not true). Three and a half years of hyper-vigilance have exhausted my mental faculties. This is not the moment for satire, alas.

So rather than parse all of this nastiness, I decided that I would offer something joyful, as moments of joy are harder to come by, in the Age of Trump, and in the Age of Quarantine, and I feel that’s it’s important, especially during times like right now, to stop and smell the roses. (Or the lilacs and the honeysuckle, as it were—no one has rose bushes near my house.) So here goes:

For the last ten weeks, time feels different. The pace of life has slowed from Mission: Impossible to Marcel Proust. Amazon Prime doesn’t deliver in two days anymore. Zappos took almost two weeks to bring sneakers that would usually arrive in 24 hours. I bought the Risk board game a month ago, and it’s still not here. When people say, “Let’s reconnect next week,” that means in two weeks, and “tomorrow” now means “sometime before the weekend.” This is not bad, necessarily. It’s just different than what we’ve been accustomed to all these years—as when you take the off-ramp after a long trip on the highway, and have to suddenly drive 35 instead of 70. At first it’s annoying, having to go so slow, but once you get accustomed to the reduced speed, you realize there’s so much more to take in, when you’re not rushing along like you’re being chased by ringwraiths in Escalades.

This spring, I’ve spent so much time outside. I have watched the trees bloom, one after another. I have made a point to study the flowers on those trees, and see the petals as they fall. The lilacs were in bloom two weeks ago, and the whole town smelled amazing. On the way back home on my morning walk—a walk twice as long as the walks I used to take; the “steps” counter on my iPhone shows that I’ve never walked this much, ever—I pass an enormous honeysuckle bush, and the smell is so fragrant and wonderful that I make a point to stop, every single day, and smell the flowers.

These are not things I’d normally do. I’m not “outdoorsy.”

I discovered a section of the nearby (and empty) campus I never knew existed. There is a creek, and a little nature preserve, and rolling fields of green grass. One day, I saw a beaver—a fucking beaver! in the suburbs!—dash into the water, surprised at my sudden appearance. I’ve seen mallard ducks (see photo above), and geese, and cranes. I thought the crane was one of those statues they put at artificial lakes to scare off unwanted wildlife, but then it turned its head and stared at me! There is a bird I see often, that is pure black, but for these stripes on the wings that are neon orange. Is it an oriole, maybe? I have no idea.

Again, I am not the outdoors type. As Stephen Leacock once quipped, “I am the kind of man who would never notice an oriole building a nest unless it came and built it in my hat in the hat room of the club.”

Yesterday I saw a squirrel climb a tree, with a donut in its mouth.

This is all a silver lining of the quarantine. It’s something that nothing can take away from me—a pleasure I never knew, and would not have known, if things had not suddenly ground to a halt. I try not to deny myself these moments of comfort and joy.

Quarantine is like musical chairs. The music stopped, and everyone wound up in different places, and I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am—in a house, with my family, with my kids old enough not to need constant supervision, but young enough not to have this affect them too adversely, and with my wife singing and playing piano in the next room.

This is not to discount, or minimize in any way, the horrors of the pandemic, the unfathomable death toll, the evil of Trump and his GOP collaborators, and the very real threat of the republic falling apart. Not at all. Corona will wend its way through the population, sooner or later. Trump will linger, like a cold sore, until January. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop living. And part of living is finding moments of joy. Maybe these moments are not as outsized as they were a year ago—or four years ago, Lord knows. They are smaller, yes. Fleeting. But they are real, and it is essential for us to experience them, even in the smallest of possible doses, even in times of trouble.

For now, we have snatches of joy. The euphoria starts in November, and peaks in January.

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