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The Stillness

The silence, the stillness, no cars, no laughter of school children, and now – little birdsong.  It is as if even they know to stay home, in their nests, to hunker down, to stay away from the suet, the feeders – to stay home.  Except the owl.  The owl still comes before dawn and calls to me from the woods.

Home – mine is an echo chamber of too many of my own thoughts, worries and fears bumping into each other, ricocheting off the insides of my head.  What if I get it?  Who will take care of my daughter?  What if she gets it, and then me?  Who will take care of us?  Was that a cough I heard coming from her room last night?  Was it a dry cough?  I peer in and gently put my hand on her chest to make sure she is breathing – just as I used to do thirty-one years ago when she lay in her crib.

The other day I mentioned to her that I was worried about how long this would last.  She asked with a shaky voice, “Should I be worried too, Mom?”  “No,” I said.  “If one of us is worrying – that is enough worry for both of us.” 

Questions arise and float in my head:  Do I have a sore throat today?  Did I yesterday?  Maybe I should take my temperature – but then what?  Was that a new twinge, or just the same arthritis?  “Don’t tempt fate,” my mother used to say.  “But what if it is tempting us,”  I think now.

“What are days for?”  My brother and I would often share thoughts on this question asked by Philip Larkin in his poem, “Days.”  It was an esoteric exercise – then.  Now – it is a reality focused on meaning.  When the cheerful filling of the past days’ choices: tennis, golf, pickleball, casual dinner with friends, are taken away – what is left between the dawn and the dusk?  What meaning is there to be found within our own new limits?

Then, and now – the change is present.  The ads on TV still show a world we no longer have:  out of date, passe;  people hold hands, kiss, sit  close together on benches and blankets, caress each other’s faces, laugh, and smile.  It is full of nostalgia like a Norman Rockwell cover of an old Saturday Evening Post magazine.   That was then.  

When I awake I wonder what is new – and then I remember.  The loss of innocence is like the day after JFK’s assassination.  The world has changed.  Now I see “use by” dates on food on the shelves and I wonder what will it be like on that date?  Will we be back to “normal?”  What will be the new normal?  I get subscription renewal notices in the mail and think what will be on the cover of that magazine in six months or a year?  Will I want to see it, to read it?  Will I still be here?

Now I often cry for no reason but for every reason.

My mother also used to say, when I was worried about something, “The good sense that got you through will get you through.”  Will it now?  Is it up to me?  What control do I really have?  When will we know we are through this? When the ads on TV look like real life again?  When the sounds of school children wake me in the morning?  When I no longer feel my sleeping daughter’s chest for signs of life?  When the owl feels more welcoming than ominous?

When I can dream again  –  Yes! 

And –  Yes – when the stillness will move and the silence will fill with laughter.

Susan Johnson spent a forty year career in advocacy and health policy at the state and national levels culminating in an appointment by President Barack Obama to serve as Health and Human Services Director of Region 10.  Now retired, she enjoys fly fishing, water color painting, skiing, golf, tennis, pickleball and travel.

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