From “Leaving Normal” a collection of essays
Time is different now, but so am I. Once upon a time, I was someone who needed an alarm. Now, I rise early, my day starts with solitude and meditation, my grounding comes from internal mechanisms, not found in the confines of any one place or plan. I’ve always been a good “manager” of time, but now more than ever, the awareness I have that each day is a gift, makes “managing” time not quite the right concept. I am “respecting” my time, the time of others, the time we have, because time is life.
I was 21 when I got my first “office job.” I have been going to an office every weekday for roughly 40 years. That is a terrifying thought. 1. That I am of an age that I could even write that, and 2. That I have done something so routinely for so long. I had to be there exactly at certain times, and I would leave at certain times, and that seems very meaningless right now- because my purpose was never truly housed in the hours I might have spent there.
The same is true of dates. We are conscious of dates, like birthdays and anniversaries and holidays we share, but Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, Father’s Day, the anniversary of our first date and our wedding anniversary, melted into a pool of days each precious and no less important than the next, and I was alone- and it was fine. I wasn’t longing for anything, not a card or a gift, I knew what I needed to know. That love does not live in the limits of obligation.
Now that I’ve traversed 4 destinations, and mastered remote living and working, I am an expert – the things I took for granted, like the clothing I so carefully chose, the way I got to work, trusting that the building was still standing, that I sat at a desk and could overhear conversations, the smiles, the hugs, the laughter and even the tears, we shared… the morning check-in about what we were watching, and our meetings, all- changed. We still laugh, we still share, we still talk about what we are watching, we still care about each other, but the spontaneity of it has been replaced with scheduled connectivity.
“Connectivity” means something different now. It means we have to try harder -we have to look past a mask for a smile or a grimace, we have to read faces more carefully. We have to make eye contact, schedule calls and face times and zoom meetings and we need to rely on memories of what it felt like to hug and kiss and hold the hands of loved ones, because we can’t do that right now-even when the urge is there, or we forget for a minute and suddenly pull away.
“Productivity” means something different now. It means far more than what we are doing with our time- or even the measure of that- the numbers the mere dollar figures we produce. That word now, embodies everything it takes to be “productive”- adaptability, resilience, mental fortitude, spiritual soundness and even love. It has required new routines, new habits, new ways of listening and paying attention. And we have learned the care it takes, to create the possibilities for being a courageous, ( not fearless) community, for being attentive in ways we didn’t have to be, and to practice it every day. I feel especially grateful for my colleagues’ continued commitment to our community and to each other. It has been in so many ways, a time of coping, continued shifts and willingness to flow with what is.
One of my greatest observations over the past few months is how many cultures afflicted by genocide, the horrors of war, displacement, and every form of punishment, in Imani Perry’s words, have discovered, “Joy is not found in the absence of pain and suffering. It exists through it.” If it is an option to put life first, to live wholly and from a place of heart and spirit despite pain and unthinkable sacrifices, and the forced constraints we endure, then from knowing joy, comes the freedom to make music, to sing, to drum, to dance, to be funny, to write, to act, to make art, to connect, to be with whatever causes us pain, and because we can create joy and embrace it – we are free to choose to keep it alive in us or let it go.
I have been ultra-conservative about my interactions with people and have had little time with anyone outside my immediate family. I’m swallowing 25 supplements a day and I’m kind to myself more so than ever- but I am still on the defensive-
Being back in New York City, naturally, came with curiosity- if I went outside how would I feel? Would I take a few steps and turn back? The sun felt good, and there was a light breeze. As I walked, I found myself observing the New York I had left months ago, escaping the perils of a predator I could not see, and felt no measure I would take great enough to avoid it. As I went, block after block, I was walking more and more briskly, dodging in and out, around people- some wearing masks, some, not- some running, standing, walking, but few yielding. With each step, I was feeling like I was in a video game and had to escape all threats. I was quick to notice every non- covered face and every café table less than six feet apart from the next. This lasted for more than a mile of our trek- I caught myself destroying what could have been a relaxing stroll. Was it possible to have a relaxing stroll or was I kidding myself? Was it me? Or was it all the offenders? Or a little of both? I decided to share the burden – and reminded myself that the warm weather brings open season – for people to be who they are. If I was going to get those 10,000 steps in, and remain sane, I needed to let A LOT go. I needed to find the joy. But how?
I started taking pictures- I was on a mission- not so much to just shoot – but to try to capture what was going on -in this time- and to stand with what is, historically, unprecedented, especially for anyone born after the end of the second World War, and not to judge it- to be its witness.
My journey took some twists and turns. I sought empty blocks and moved away from more crowded areas. I was looking for the hallmarks of a time we are sharing. Manikins in stores are dressed in beautiful clothing and they are wearing masks, signage affirming that “We are in this together.” “ We miss you…” “Welcome back” and “ We stand with our essential workers,” a clarion call to the times. There were stores still boarded up, the fresh wood, like the bandages on a wound.
While I was waiting for Jim to finish shopping, I was standing on the sidewalk. A grocery delivery guy was riding a bike. I was wearing my mask, big glasses, a hat and gym clothes. I was watching him approach. As he passed he said, “You are my dream.” Had he been wearing a mask I wouldn’t have heard him. I waved at him- my face was so obscured he couldn’t see my smile. It was very funny to me. I thought I looked like an alien or a bug- but I was happy I was someone’s “dream.” I will cherish that moment, because it was so absurd and so “typical.”
Tonight, when we heard the rumble of what sounded like too much thunder- we figured out it must be fireworks. We ran down to the corner – which sits atop the East river, and right there- they were soaring over our heads. It was breath taking. A beautiful, joyful, summer night treat. The sparkles magically falling in a rain of gold and explosions of red and blue. When they stopped I wondered, would there be more? I didn’t want to leave. I stood there looking up – and forgot in the beauty of that sky, I was wearing a mask.
I miss so many of my friends, and family colleagues and clients- we all do. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of someone I haven’t seen or connected with and wonder how things are…