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.