The Silent Spring: In a time warp

All winter, I look forward to the warmer days when I don’t have to dress in layers for my sorties with Savannah. I anticipate being able to pop out in flip-flops and a T-shirt holding merely a poop bag and her leash. All winter, I hear myself whining that it takes me 10 minutes extra to don wooly hat, coat, scarf, gloves, socks and boots, plus another five minutes to loop Savannah’s coat round her legs and under her tummy. Yes, it gets that cold in Atlanta, contrary to what “they” told me when we first arrived in Georgia (but that’s a blog for another time.)

I’ve ditched the coat and scarf, but I’m still whining. On with the mask and gloves which just don’t match the flip-flops. And when I take off the gloves, my fingers are all wrinkly as if I’ve been in the bath too long. Life is no longer spontaneous. The sanitation station inside our front door holds a selection of alcohol wipes and anti-bacterial spray, as well as gloves and masks and piles of newspaper so that, heaven’s forbid, no package touches the floor before being sanitized. I’m adept at removing my gloves with nary a finger touching a clean surface, thanks to YouTube tutorials – you can learn anything from YouTube.

We are exhorted, daily, to find at least one positive, one sliver of silver lining: I only have to put sunscreen on my forehead.

The Silent Spring: Memories, memories

When chemo had zapped my immune system, my medical team warned me to take extra care to avoid people with coughs and colds. The vicar of our church, Beth, even called to counsel me NOT to come to Sunday services because so many members of the congregation were coughing and hacking their way through the hymns. Beth had sat in the waiting room with Cedric during my surgery and joined us for my first chemo session, so she wasn’t taking any chances.

I recall one day at the office when I was in the elevator. It stopped and the person who got on was sniffling visibly. I held my breath all the way down, deciding that I would rather expire from asphyxiation than catch an infection with a compromised immune system. I feel the same way now. I wear a mask at all times when I leave the apartment. If I’m already waiting in the elevator lobby and a neighbor appears or if the elevator stops half-way up or down, I ask people if they can get the next one. Fortunately, our building only has four floors. Everyone is very understanding although sometimes it takes them a moment to process what I’m saying. The jury is out on whether germs can linger in the air in the enclosed elevator cab, but I’m not taking any chances and I’m practicing holding my breath on each elevator ride, which isn’t easy – it’s hard to take that first huge breath with a mask on. Catch-22 for sure.

The Silent Spring: When life gives you lemons …

Everyone knows the proverbial phrase that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I put my own spin on that today. My dear friend, Morgan, once again picked up some groceries for me. I’m not really fussy, but I do like certain brands, so of course I sent her a barrage of photos to show her precisely which reduced fat milk I wanted, the brand of unsweetened almond milk, the whole milk with the picture of the cow on the front. No, I’m really not that fussy. And I sent her a picture of the eggs that come from happy hens – at least that’s what the box assures me.

Morgan called me before leaving my groceries outside the door. Oops – she had dropped the bag with the eggs on the steps outside our building and some were broken. If life gives you broken eggs, you make a cake. Ten minutes later, a cake was in the oven. And yes, I’m giving a big piece to Morgan.

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The Silent Spring: What’s the time?

I know the date but I don’t know what time it is. It’s May 1, the anniversary of my mother’s death in 1986. I always know when May 1 is. It’s a bittersweet day, sad but with the promise of spring. But I don’t know the time because I’ve taken off my Apple Watch. I’ve been wearing it every day for more than three years and decided that in May, I can exist without knowing the precise time, the weather, the wind speed, the stock market index, my heart beat, a reminder to take a deep breath – and all before I even get out of bed.

I’m taking poetic license here because my laptop gives me the time, so I can either get a piece of masking tape and hide the clock, or just ignore it as best I can. In the bubble we are living in, we don’t need to know exactly what time it is – Savannah tells me when it’s time to go out, we know if we are hungry, if I see the mail truck, I know the mail’s arrived, but time has become so fluid that I’m sure I’ll get used to being without a watch for the month of May at least.

We are all getting used to a new normal – I’m using a new flavor of mouthwash as my regular brand is out of stock. Now that will take some adjustment.

The Silent Spring: Waving goodbye to April

April will forever be our first full month of social distancing and self-quarantining. On March 13, I attended a church workshop, but April has been 30 days of a very different lifestyle. I intended to blog for 30 days but fell off the wagon the last week. Somehow, there was no longer very much to say. Wisdom says if you blog, just one word suffices, but that’s so narrow a focus.

I’ve done a lot of waving in April. Every Zoom meeting starts with attendees waving madly – I’m here, I’m here! When I’m out with Savannah, I wave at most cars, especially when the driver slows down; I wave at other walkers, many of whom take a wide berth round Savannah and me. Sometimes, the other walker and I dance a few steps until it’s clear who is going to step off the curb. When I see a neighbor, I wave wildly, my gloved fingers doing a little dance, and from the balcony I can wave with both arms. There’s no Queen’s wave for me – you gotta wave like you really mean it.

Thank you, April – we were blessed.

The Silent Spring: A special weekend

Easter was late in 2011. Although the days are blending into each other and I don’t know if it’s Monday or Thursday, I couldn’t shift the nagging feeling that this weekend was special. And, indeed, I was right. This weekend in 2011 was Easter weekend and I finished my cancer radiation treatment that week. I remember thinking how lucky I was that Easter didn’t come early that year because psychologically I was determined to complete my treatment by Easter. Of course, I had no control over the number of treatments I would have, and the radiation sessions couldn’t start until my chemotherapy treatments ended … there was a lot that could have gone wrong with the timing, but it all worked out.

It’s calming to remember that this weekend in 2011 was so special to me and Cedric. It marked the start of the new normal, of the healing, of the hair growing, of being a survivor. I refuse to allow the anxiety that surrounds this 2020 weekend to spoil our good fortune and blessings. We are well, we are virus free, we have all we need. All is well with our souls.

The Silent Spring: There’s a kind of hush…

… all over the world. I’ve always loved that song by The Carpenters. And that’s what I’m feeling now – a quiet acceptance of things that are and a quiet acceptance of a new normal. None of my friends have gone totally stir crazy as far as I know, no one has squirted wine from their balcony onto passersby and the world seems to be waiting hopefully.

With a new normal, whenever that comes, we will have to unlearn the current new normal. One day, I will eat chips (still practicing a Lenten fast on those), put lipstick on and not have to wipe down my phone and keys when I walk in the door. When all that palaver is over, will I remember the old normal? I think so, but not for long.

The Silent Spring: I’m conflicted

Do you or do you not wipe down an umbrella? We had a huge storm in Atlanta this morning and I carried an umbrella when I took Savannah out. That’s a challenge. There’s enough going on on my ambulatory excursions without having to take an umbrella as well. But the conundrum is how much of the umbrella to wipe down. There’s the handle because I’ve touched it, albeit wearing gloves, but my gloves undoubtedly are covered in nasty virus. The umbrella fabric has brushed against the door, the elevator and goodness knows where else so is undoubtedly covered in nasty virus. But I hate wasting a wipe on such a large area. Today, I left the umbrella outside the front door for several hours. I read that the nasty virus will dissipate eventually and then I can furl it and put it back in the umbrella stand. Yep, we have so many umbrellas that we have a stand. I might start rotating the umbrellas and then I’ll know I’m not spreading the nasty virus if it keeps raining.

The Silent Spring: The breath

I practice yoga every day but I’ve never thought so much about breathing as when I’m wearing a mask. In yoga, the breath comes first. In life, the breath comes first. With the virus, the breath comes first – or, sadly, last.

One of my most favorite activities is walking but I can’t take a brisk walk wearing a mask. I have to slow down. The mask makes me take short breaths and every five or six I try to take a deeper one, even if it means stopping. Yesterday, for the first time, I sneezed while wearing it, opening my mouth wide and inhaling violently, making my mask curl inside my lips. The exhalation pushed the mask back out. It was the oddest sensation I’ve had in a long time.

In Hebrew, ruach means breath, wind or spirit and can refer to a person’s emotional state of being or their soul or spirit. When I’m wearing a mask, I’m conscious of every breath. Does that mean I am more aware of my soul? I think it does. Every morning, when I wake, my first thought is that I feel OK, my chest does not hurt, my breathing is not labored. I am grateful for one more day without the virus.