Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.
I began to watch Governor Cuomo’s briefings daily and then receiving his nightly newsletter, all of which gave me the information and comfort I craved; that many of us, even those not living in New York adopted as their “national” briefing. Governor Cuomo stated the facts, no matter how uncomfortable or scary and he always followed up with his opinion, clearly stated as that, and there was also always a level of humanity and consolation that can’t be faked. He led. I was happy to follow.
Then began the onslaught of covid related emails from companies I’d forgotten that I signed up for; a virtual who’s who of places I needed to unsubscribe from. I was staying home as prescribed by the state, and I really didn’t care that they were washing the counter tops every six hours or whatever it was they were doing to get ready for reopening in two weeks time. Little did we know then.
We hadn’t settled into the rhythm that came later. We were all still walking on eggshells, each of us in our own rooms, working, schooling, reading, and writing, but the weekends we were thrown together when the work stopped. It was different from our normal weekends of errands and friends’ houses, shopping and driving. The weekend before lockdown we drove up to Lake George just to wander. It was quiet, but all the stores were open and parking was abundant.
It hadn’t even been two weeks, barely twelve days since going from dinner out at Chili’s to homeschooling, home-praying, home isolation, home-everything, and I broke. I just broke. I had no spoons left and no one to borrow from. It was a Sunday and I don’t know what my kids were doing, but it wasn’t anything good. I was stressed. Everyone seemed to be yelling about something or other. Chores were not getting done, and arguments ensued.
I simply got up, walked out of the door without saying a word to anyone, and drove off.
I had no place in mind to go, and I don’t remember which direction I drove in initially, but I remember turning around, and then finally I parked in my church’s parking lot. There were a couple of families there, all keeping a good distance away from each other, but the kids were all riding bikes, and it was nice to see. The sun was bright, but it was cold out. My husband called to check on me, and we talked for a minute. I said I’d stay out for an hour or so. He said the kids were finally cooperating, so to stay out longer. I laughed. Eventually I put my mask on and went inside to pray for a bit. I said the rosary and just sat there in the pew for a little while. There was one other parishioner there, well far away from me. I missed being in the building. Now, I watch the livestream, and participate at home for Sunday mass, but in the very early days of staying home there wasn’t anything available. The short time I was there was enough to give me the encouragement I needed to return home and try again.
Somewhere during my time praying and driving home, I decided to take the next day and visit a nearby labyrinth. It would be a self-imposed mental health day, and since it was Monday, the family would be back to their new weekday routine. Even in crisis, still taking care of the family’s needs. I’d get up early and head out. It wouldn’t be the same as running away. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that it would be raining the next morning. I still went. There is something profoundly cleansing about the rain, and it turned into a deeply felt experience for me. It felt holy with that feeling of joy that settles in after a reflection or meditation; maybe with the rain coming down I felt closer to nature and creation and it led me through the labyrinth configuration created by the rock defined path, beginning with crossing the threshold of its natural entryway between the pair of tall custodial tree and onto the grassy space beyond.
I had my brightly colored umbrella and the cross I was gifted as an RCIA catechist. I didn’t have a plan other than to walk through the labyrinth, and let my inner feelings lead the way, but once I began the walk, I began to pray. I started with the Our Father and then continued with several Hail Marys one after the other. As I would finish one, I’d stop and breathe in the smell of grass and the rain on the leaves. I’d take a picture if I was in a good spot for one.
The rain seemed to keep everyone else away; even the animals. There weren’t any squirrels or birds, not a scurry or a chirp. Everyone hiding out in their homes and avoiding the dampness.
It was quiet.
I didn’t listen to music or hum. I didn’t talk. I didn’t journal. I just existed among the rocks, the blades of grass, the weeds, and the prayers. I contemplated the isolation, then only advancing two weeks at a time. I thought about how to protect my family, but more existentially rather than substantially. Masks were still to come. Asymptomatic carriers still to come. Anti-science zealots still to come. So those aspects were out of my mind. It was just me and the quiet.
Looking back to that day from now, it is hard to believe that something so simple settled my mind, put my anxiety at bay. I’m still anxious, and I’m still isolating, and I’m still taking care of my family, but I’m no longer broken. I’ve replenished my spoons and I’m healed if only for the moment. If I crack again, I know I have a way to heal again.
Rereading this as part of the loss retreat I mentioned last week is another way to center my feelings and to focus my mental health. I’m continuing to let my healing be led by whatever comes my way, whether it’s online prayer, online retreats, and settling into what the summer may bring. Loss is inevitable, but so is gain, and replenishment.
Stay safe, and be well.