How do I tell the turtle that I am slower than he? — Pablo Neruda, from The Book of Questions
Vaster than empires and more slow – Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
I would spend the whole day dreaming, nestled in my comfy chair, the wind making music from the wind chimes, the sun making its slow round in the window. Once, after the hospital, my husband took us to a cabin in the woods built by hippies out of old houses, and I nestled on the couch and watched the sun make it slow round over the cathedral windows, while Mark brought me oatmeal, and tea, and sandwiches. He took his snowshoes out and came back smelling of woods and winter, but I sat there and watched the window change, watched the shadows of the trees bend from one side to another and was happy.
After days and days in the comfy chair I stop being able to put on my shoes. The door develops a sort of static at its edges, an invisible field made of vertigo and fear. In summer I can venture barefoot onto the porch to sit in the sun and watch the bees and butterflies — and once a hummingbird moth — in the flowers, but the concrete tears at my tender soles, and the complicated laces of my walking shoes unravel in my hands.
Sometimes I force the laces tied, force myself outside, take those dizzying steps off the porch and trudge through the neighborhood — curiously light and not-quite-there. Now, in this our first infected winter, I have to remember my mask, and in the cold my own breath condenses clammy and chilled against my mouth and nose. Curiously light and not-quite-there, stunned at the lack of catastrophe that follows me down the sidewalk, I cross Poplar Street and pad down the footpath carpeted in wood chips to the tiny piece of conservation land my neighbor has turned into a garden. In the infected summer of 2020, she wangled a mountain of free wood chips from a tree company, and a host of donated plants from Needham, and Dover. The lot had had its beauty before, but in the summer of the plague she and her wife shoveled and dug and rolled wheelbarrows until it became something more. She’s placed educational signs: “Why let the nettle grow?,” “Why a bug house?,” “Why the rotten apples?” (which she harvested from our apple tree and rolled downhill to make good soil). Why a fairy house?
Why the buds that came last spring as doctors named the marks of COVID in the lungs “ground glass?” Why the cherry blossoms in my driveway, as millions lost their jobs and the lucky ones confined themselves to laptops, and pajamas, and InstaCart. Why a madman in the White House, driving his minions to storm the Capitol? Why the Q-Anon believers, rife for recruitment now to the Proud Boys and the Hammerskins, the Aryan Resistance and the Boogaloo. Why the virus that still rides the waves of humans’ breaths into our lungs, into our vessels, into, into, into.
Today the sun has turned to clouds and I’ve fed myself and dressed myself and done my work, and I have yet to tie my shoes and go outside. Will I? Or will I do ten jumping jacks and call it a day, nestle in my comfy chair and read my Mary Russel novels, safe in my home, lazing with my cats?