Autumn, asters and time

Dark in the morning, these days, when I come downstairs early to make coffee for my husband, tea for me. I light two candles, a practice inherited from a housemate many years ago, as it eases me into my day. I peer at the inside/outside thermometer. If the inside temperature is below 60° AND the outside temperature below 40°, I make a fire in the woodstove. 

A soft, dancing light of warmth is thrown into the room. 

Autumn is far and away my favorite season. The colors this year are spectacular and we have had quite a few sunny days.  Our garden has not yet been hit by a hard frost: late tomatoes are still ripening on the vines, the kale and swiss chard are flourishing and my harvest of zinnia blooms grace tables throughout the house. 

And New England asters burst their purple and pink into the world with end of season abandon. 

But winter is coming, and, unlike other years when I have embraced this season of transition, looking forward to snow and skiing and to hunkering down into more inside activities, my predominate feeling this year is dread. The occasional outside meals with guests, served on top of an old table on saw horses set up on the lawn, will come to a chilly end. Visits-at-a-distance with the grandkids outside will depend much more on the weather. Unlike most winters, that occasional sprinkling of company into the house or a gathering for a community event to season our days will not happen.  

Zoom meetings will help. But only superficially. 

We are not ill with Covid and indeed, lack nothing of importance except the precious opportunities to be with loved ones. So many others are suffering so much more; it is beyond my imagination. 

I look back at my previous posts. Such an underpinning of optimism. The world pulling together.  Hope for a change in direction across the country that would begin to steer us toward not only a nationwide Covid response to reduce the deaths but a change of heart about other threats, such as climate change.   

I have not written for two months. Time during a pandemic takes on different characteristics. We are in our eighth month. It is less than two weeks before the election and a part of me is terrified, not to mention really sad that so many people apparently have accepted a “new normal”.

It is not normal, and immensely tragic, that our “baseline” expectations may have changed so much that what people believe and how they behave toward one another might have become an unrecognizable reality. I begin to recognize in myself – and in others – a shrugging of the shoulders kind of acceptance when Trump does things that are so far off the beaten track of normalcy that we tend to ignore it.  But I fear that is exactly what begins to erode our valuing of what is right, what is ethical, what is true.  We become so cynical that we begin to forget what is good. 

Optimism is being suffocated. 

I refuse to accept this as simply “the new normal”. I do not want that kind of world for my grandchildren. 

So, for the time being, each day after I extinguish the candles, I will seek to lean into the deeper, wiser, and comforting presence of some other non-human being, animate or inanimate, that represents a different kind of normal. 

What can I learn?

Here, for instance, are the fall asters. During the day, they open their hearts to the sun and to the bees, who in turn are thankful for a late season source of pollen and nectar.  But at night, the blooms close up. Botanists are unsure why this happens, but it might be simply to protect the pollen from moisture and to preserve energy for the daylight hours when the insects are more active. That sure makes sense. Whatever the case – they have adapted to a rhythm balancing outward offerings and inward preservation. 

 I need to learn to do that right now.  

Tree sprouts and hockey sticks

Where do I start?

My first blog post arrives on my brand-new website right in the middle of a pandemic. How can I possibly say anything significant in this time? And do my readers-to-be really need something else to read online? 

Probably not.  But I am going to post anyway. I am 71, and have learned that Elder Time shines out a different facet of life.  And the connections between the climate crisis and the coronavirus are legion.

I will try hard to trend toward hope… 

Blessed with abundant space in which to roam, we are on one of our daily walks in our self-isolation…

Passing through the too-often-ignored field at the far end of our property, this:

I am instantly reminded of orderly social distancing (although the spacing of the sprouting trees is considerably less than six feet and reflects competition for resources, not threat of contagion). I chuckle to myself.

Like a laser, this coronavirus has pierced our consciousness, forcing us to pay attention to it, all the time!

It is a blunt, predicted reality, reflecting yet another facet of what we are learning – all too slowly – about how the human/planet interaction works when stressed. Reductions in habitat due to outright destruction, and climatic seasonal changes, combined with poverty, brought wild animals harboring viruses into the stomachs of hungry humans. One virus among billions crossed the species barrier into brand new territory, a human body without immunity, most likely with lungs compromised by air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels.  

The rest is history – being written as I write. And we have no idea how it will all end.

It seems different, but there is no new reality here. Cause, effect. Just life playing out as usual as far as the planet’s systems are concerned.

Tragically, “business” also continues as usual in a political system that values profits over people. Scorning the medical science-based recommendations, saving the economy becomes more important than saving people.

I think about time passing:. Does it seem to move more slowly? Or frighteningly fast?

I am struck by the similarities of two “hockey stick” graphs.

On one, depicting the climate crisis, the time axis on the bottom is measured in years or decades.  On the other, depicting the spread of the coronavirus, the axis is in days or weeks.  The steepness of both graphs has one message: Do not be lulled into thinking that life is a steady state transaction.

“Everything must change!” climate activists have been shouting for decades.

And then, everything did change.  In just a couple of weeks.  (This is not what we had in mind.)

But here is where the hope comes in, fellow sojourners on planet earth:

The planet-wide response is jaw-dropping. In some cases, government officials (especially at the state level)are taking bold action at least as radical as any previously suggested by climate change activists. And then, regular people, from your neighbors to citizens of distant countries, are implored to take individual action to make a difference, and they do it!  Right away!

And despite our forced physical isolation, because of the huge virtual community (basically the whole world!), I feel more in community than ever. News reports (maybe too many), family and friends checking in, sharing of things to do while at home.  Lots of very funny videos going viral (!)  to help us through.

Yesterday I took a virtual tour of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and then watched a magnificent production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, shot in the Globe Theater in London. Even more inspiring, I can watch Italians, Spaniards, and Bostonians cheering for their health care workers, bus drivers delivering lunches to kids at home from school, children’s authors reading their books out loud to children on YouTube.

I can even go to church on Sunday.

There are also terrible things happening around the globe: health care workers without protection, older people dying alone, refugee camps just waiting for the virus to ransack their ranks. The inequalities and the social injustices are being intensified beyond what we thought possible.

There is anger, grief, fear.  How long? we wonder…..

But there is also an element of wonderful Spirit-led grace alongside that makes me smile and love the whole world despite my trembling soul. The mindful caring of others tempers my fear.

The global virus infection is symptomatic of the close relationship between the climate crisis and potential origins of pandemics. This one is unprecedently contagious. Which begs the question for me:  Is the together-in-the-world response contagious?  Can everything, from the realization of the severity of the problem to each doing our part, right now, be transmitted to addressing the global climate crisis?

I am a person of faith. I pray that this symptom of God alongside, forgiving our terrible transgressions on creation, spreading grace, comfort and love, stays with us.

For some of you, my new readers, it may simply be the wonderful human response in itself that will be, in effect, a sacred element that sustains you. 

Whatever.

Just stay safe.  Do your part. The earth rises tomorrow.