By Jan Worth-Nelson
I seem to have been sitting too long.
Day after day of it. Day after day, for about 75 days now, obsessed with numbers, I’ve pretzeled myself into a big green chair too close to a glaring screen.
The chair is sort of a comfort—it’s wide enough to accommodate the girth of me, widened by what I’ve come to call my “Trump Ten.” Okay, maybe it’s 15 by now. The chair is deep enough to make me feel safely ensconced, as the too-large faces on the TV screen shout, cry, bemoan, grieve, predict, attack, worry, argue, advise. Occasionally – oh, occasionally, but never enough – the faces offer a smile—now most often masked–or a chuckle, a heartfelt tear.
I know I should tear myself away. I know there are people around me who are making the most of it, cooking nice dinners, playing music for their neighbors, reading books rediscovered on dusty shelves, planting hopeful gardens of tomatoes and squash and melons.
But me — much of the past two months, going on three, I’ve been glued that that green easy chair, mesmerized by what is without doubt the biggest story of our lives so far. I can’t resist the daily dramas, the numbers, the numbers – the horrifying, fascinating machinations and presidential chaos, the feeling that we’re watching a falling of the dominoes and we’re caught in the life-threatening collapse, in collective panic and mistrust.
How will it turn out? It’s like a fat Russian novel in the making, and, in my 70th year, I suspect I might not live long enough to see the denouement.
At first I took long walks every day, bursting out of our cloistered life in the eerily deserted streets—in the early weeks when out of fear and consideration of others we didn’t know if it was safe to crack the front door even an inch.
Those walks kept me sane. There was a special spot along the way, on a little pastoral section of Cadet going toward Pierce Park, where I found myself actually yelling up to the trees—offering thanks to Mother Nature, greeting the trees, old ladies who like me have made it through another unbelievably stressful winter. I didn’t care if anybody heard me – it felt good…the suspect droplets from my mouth, my hollered catharsis, not within blocks of any other human.
Once I ran across a quintet of deer leaping through the woods just to my right. I greeted them, gratefully, too, and told them to be careful not to get slammed on I-69. I hope there’s enough room for them in the overgrown acreage of the old nine-hole, where flocks of red-winged blackbirds do their singular peals from the tops of light poles.
After those walks I’d rush back to the green chair, folding myself tightly back into safety and addiction.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, my leg started acting up, an ache and piercing pain down my backside, traveling from my overly cushy derriere to my toes. Getting up out of the chair kept getting harder and harder. On my walks, my hip hurt and I’d end up limping the last few blocks. So I stopped.
It seems sitting wrapped up in tragedy in front of a giant screen for weeks on end isn’t that great for the spine. I’ve bruised my body, probably that big thick sciatic nerve, with self-hugging, strained some muscles, ironically out of my instincts toward protection.
My body woke me up with pain. You’re hurting me, my body said.
So, I’ve had to peel myself away from the green chair, little by little. It’s not that anything in this beat-up, scary old world is getting any better. But outside my darkened den, there is this thing called daily life.
The birds have been magnificent–always the old friends I turn to when human life is too much: orioles, flashing orange from tree to greening ground to feeder. And there were two rosebreasted grosbeak couples. And a flicker with his handsome black bib and red top knot. And finches, robins, nuthatches, redwings and cardinals. There are rabbits and a waddling groundhog and chipmunks to keep track of.
They know nothing, it seems, nor do they care, about COVID-19 or Donald Trump.
There have been our daily rituals, my husband venturing out for morning coffee, a sweet time together when he comes back with breakfast victuals and news. There’s been the rediscovery, again, day after day, of quotidian meditations: emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry…each day an opportunity to make life better in small, noticeable ways.
My husband and I cut each other’s hair, chopping away hilariously and a bit madly in our sunroom, leaving us both looking like concentration camp survivors, I’m told, fluffs of hair sailing out into the back yard for the birds’ nests. But we don’t care. We think it’s funny.
And sometimes, now, there are the cherished moments, driveway or the street between us, with neighbors. It’s good to see them in person. Neighborliness has been enriched by COVID here. Masks in place, we call out, “Are you okay?” We hand off little pots of tomato starts and chicken wire and leftover produce and stories. We make jokes. We try to make the children laugh. We pull little pranks. I declared our sidewalk a “silly walk” zone, with a sign inviting Monty Python wannabes, and a couple of times a day, if I’m watching, I’ll see somebody prance, leap or jiggle—apparently not caring if anybody else is looking, with endearing abandon–and it makes my day.
It’s the little victories, isn’t it, that help us survive? I’m not back to walking yet, but I AM sitting less, doing yoga in a morning Zoom class, and attaining a certain serenity while I fold the clothes.
Today was a good day: All the socks matched up. Amazing. I think tonight I’ll sleep in peace.
Love to all—out of our strength, sorrow, a bit of humor, and endurance, we will get by.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.