Years That Ask Questions and Years That Answer
One year ago yesterday the governor declared a state of emergency here in the Commonwealth and one year ago today the WHO first cried “pandemic” from the rooftop. It is anniversary season now, the first birthday of this worldwide mess. No one is having a party or blowing out candles or raising a glass to the virus and toasting “May you have many more,” but we are pausing to look back.
During this entire wild ride, I have continued to do what I was doing before. I kept at my journal daily and showed up for my job at a grocery store.
I’m the guy with the hearing aids, the one usually working on bread, the one scribbling quick notes like a furtive smoker in the little spiral notebook I keep in my apron. I might have even written down something you said or that cool quote from Rumi you have on a sweatshirt. You may never know.
I just kept making notes on every little thing, as some of these lines from last March bear witness.
I shut off the alarm, slippered to the kitchen and turned on the gas flame for coffee water wondering if this is the day I notice a cough or something else untoward. A slow southeast wind nags and bends the exhaust being vented from the school next door. It suggests a question mark, a grammatical symbol for our time. Yesterday morning the crescent moon stood on her tiptoes balanced on the roof of the school. I rest my face in my hands and think oh shit then remember I have already washed them twice since I got up a half hour ago.
Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings with frightening World War I memories. Is this virus like a mosquito? What purpose does it have? Where does it live? What do they eat when they don’t have Hobbit, as Sam asked of mosquitoes? Am I noticing some kind of grudging respect for a microscopic creature without locomotion that has brought the world to its knees? What kind of power is that? What’s the use in being angry? It’s like ascribing malignant intent to a white whale.
I was talking with an old timer who was shopping during the 8AM to 9 hour when only over 60s were allowed. He was trying to get a handle on why all the fuss over running out of toilet paper. He said “There’s always leaves, right?” I said “Right, spot on, of course” having used fistfuls of leaves myself a good many times in the woods.
A young colleague told me his friend texted and said he was out of cum from jerking off so much lately. Definitely something to do when bored. I said I was surprised. “I thought guys your age never ran out.” Another (a fellow boomer) said in the Army soldiers would have guard duty inside the barracks and shine the flashlight over all the beds and half the GIs were going at it.
His grandmother died in the 1918 flu epidemic. He says his grandfather never got over it. I told him I’d seen on a PBS documentary that it may well have started with soldiers at Fort Riley burning manure. He said that’s a common practice, or was, at least. It was in Vietnam too, when he was there.
Something tells me it’s all happening at the zoom, with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel
Zora Neale Hurston wrote “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I think we know what this one was.