It was eerie and humid on our abandoned golf course. I am trying to walk every day. Ten minutes, fifteen — sometimes a full thirty, like I did today. The first day of the rest of my summer.
Furloughs started in March for my husband and my friends. Mine started today, in June. The fears and the questions about reopening and work are for me put off until fall when the unemployment assistance will have already withered. A long hot summer stretches in front of me. My dream to take time off to write is here. As are protests and riots. Fear seems to be spilling over from seclusion, rising like steam off the asphalt. People with masks and people without masks pale in comparison to the image of George Floyd taking his last breath.
I was looking for comfort of some kind when I read a friend and fellow writer’s post. He wrote that this is something that I am “500 lifetimes away from understanding.” He was saying it to the world, to white people, but I took it personally. I hope that was his intention because it is changing me. Maybe trying to understand isn’t the best goal. Maybe taking it personally is a better one.
It was cool when we went into quarantine and grew cooler still with the removal of car exhaust. Like a veil lifted over our neighborhood, our normally ninety degree weather peeled back to reveal the fifties. I wore a cardigan in April when sitting outside in my Florida backyard. Unheard of.
With June the heat arrived. I do not know how we will survive this heat.
Now that I can go out, I am shutting down myself. My heart sheltering in place. Overcome by the pain of 500 lifetimes and trying to find my own little life, I want to crawl back into my lovely quarantine routine — we are home and waiting, we are eating a meal together, we are playing in the pool, throwing a ball back and forth.
I have been trying to get home for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to be home with my son since he was two. He’s twenty-four. I tried. I think I tried. But now I’m not sure. I’m doing a lot of meditation with Deepak Chopra, the four questions with Byron Katie, and positive affirmations with Joel Osteen. I’m not sure who I am at the moment. Eckhart Tolle tells me to observe the emotions, my emotions. Well, he was not a hyper-active, overly-dramatic little girl ever and I have that history to contend with. Her emotions are wild and mostly unreliable. Though sometimes they crack and you can see the truth moving under there. They might now be the candy coating on the rich center, but for years they were the only thing. And then they were a tight fitting garment. I could sense they weren’t real — I didn’t really feel that way but on I went reacting as if I did, not knowing how I actually felt.
Did I try to get what I wanted? Well, if I’m reading these books right, if I really wanted to be home, I would have been home. Also, I’m not sure I can be sure of what I want.
My image for this summer was sabbatical. I have refused to speak the words furlough or COVID-19. This may be the first time I’ve typed these words or named the virus. I don’t know why pandemic seemed easier except that the actual name has unwanted power. I think that speaking out a name, calling something by its name, has power. The Bible has a lot to say about changing names. I held on to those scriptures in desperate times, longing for my name to reflect a transformation from a Sarai to a Sarah, from Abram to Abraham from Jacob to Israel. In lieu of divine intervention, I tried changing it myself many times; for marriage, for the stage, for divorce, but not yet for myself. I’m not sure what to call this me.
By saying sabbatical instead of furlough I am transforming the ‘there’s no place for you’ into the fertile ground of reception and deep thinking and producing great work. What name can we speak out that will transform this time? What words can small white me say into 500 lifetimes of something I will never understand? There aren’t enough words. There aren’t the right words.
My friend Clare offered this exercise that helped me take it even more personally— take whatever group you identify with, anything you are and love (i.e. Denomination, Sports Team Fan, Pet Owner…) and replace ‘Black Person’ with your own, favorite identity: Harry Potter fan arrested for stating her opinion with passion to police. Green Bay Packer fan slowly choked to death on the street. Catholic father has cop’s knee pressed on his neck until he dies.
The Harry Potter one got me. Putting myself in one of those 500 lifetimes and feeling it is the thing I can do today: Navy Captain’s daughter shot by police twenty times while she slept. Henry’s mom pulled over and detained for three days for lighting a cigarette, leading to her death. Disney Holiday Storyteller cries out “I can’t breathe” to the police officer with his knee on her neck.
Now, you try it. Go ahead, take it personally. It may be the only thing helping me know who I am at the moment.