Last night I opened my window for only the second time in a month, since lightning strikes started dozens of fires around the Bay Area and our skies filled with thick smoke. The last time I could open a window was for a solid day and a half two weeks ago, even though it is the height of our summer season when fresh breezes always flow daily through windows, ruffling curtains in a way that makes me suddenly want to sing. Then prevailing winds changed, and the apocalypse arrived again only this time in the form of a low, eerie ceiling of dark orange that blanketed the entire area for a full day, prompting end-of-days headlines, until we settled back in to just the general smoke-filled sky and the alarming readings on the PurpleAir air monitoring site; the crushing of yet another normal.
It is staggering what we~what I~take for granted. The privileges that I live with each and every day that are not even a thought; that are so routine they have never even made it onto the periodic gratitude lists that I try~and fail~to maintain with any kind of regularity; my gratitude "practice" much more haphazard and casual, try as I may to be that person who nightly pulls out her pretty journal and lists in beautiful cursive all of those things that she is eternally grateful for.
I am nebulous at best on the word WOKE but if nothing else, these last years since the 2016 election have been a minefield of opportunity, a serious chance day in and day out to wake up and realize my absolute fortune in life. And not just that, but to open not only my eyes but my heart to the vast amount of suffering in our country and around the world. Then, these last six months of COVID have upped the ante remarkably, like a PhD program: Piled Higher and Deeper.
It's not that I have whined per se so much as grieved, especially the losses that have come since the virus. Yet even these, like going months without seeing my precious little granddaughter, are seriously benign when I look around; except when my arms themselves ache to hold her soft, sweet body in them, except when she says, in her two-year-old innocence, Grammy, when can you come here again? the way her voice raises slightly at the end of the string of words belying her confusion, her uncertainty, her own heart's longing. Those days, even though I know, trust me, I know how fortunate I have been, I do, for a short time anyway, plummet.
COVID has given me one thing. It has given me, for the first time in ten years, a garden. When there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, I figured out a way to have a very small garden in my very small patio and when nurseries opened for curbside pickup I was there, mask on, again and again picking up pots and dirt and flowers, and now, just out my window, there are pink roses and lavender and coneflowers and pincushion flowers and yarrow and begonias and more all crammed together in the small space of dirt and in surrounding pots.
But the fires have taken even that, taken my serene mornings out there, where for a little while I could practice yes, gratitude, but also, amnesia. Could commune with the plants, the water in the fountain, the birds and bees, forgetting for whole chunks of time the horrendousness of life out there, the terror of where this country is heading; the deep shit we are in on this, our beloved planet. And more, they've taken my sense of being safe in my own home and community, something that for so many of my years was not the case, but has been the case now for the last decades of my adulthood.
I have known my own share of suffering. I have complex post traumatic stress, the complex part meaning repeated and multiple incidences of trauma. From that came a brutal form of OCD called Pure O OCD that terrifies me with worst-case scenarios in both thoughts and living color images re myself and my loved ones. But I have never, even in a challenging childhood, had to worry about the basics. Though it is true that I was not always safe, there was clean air and water and most of the time food and always a roof over my head, healthcare, education, and an environment free from rockets and bombs and snipers. I have never had to make the agonizing decision to leave my home for an overcrowded boat or a deplorable refugee camp. I have never had to watch my children starve. Had to make a choice between an insidious virus and my family's security. I never had to worry about being killed for walking down the street simply because of the color of my skin. Though as a woman, my body was ripe for exploitation, and I am part of the huge #MeToo collective, several times over. I can glimpse now, thanks to our president, a bit of what it must be like to live in a would-be totalitarian regime, to watch with growing anxiety one by one, some days subtly, other days not so much, the tick tock of freedom and rights and civil liberties and truth and the rule of law being abandoned, then full-on buried; along with untold and unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death.
So here I sit, in the middle of the oft experienced tension of the validity of my own pain versus the pain of others. The truth is, we can always find someone whose circumstances are far worse, whose real suffering is seriously more monumental. Still, that does not negate our own pain, our own losses, our own grief, our own experiences, not for a moment. All loss is loss. And our own pain is our own pain.
Nor is it even the point, though my mind loves to distract me in that way. The point is that I now know, apropos of nothing~or everything~that opening a window, that feeling the fresh air on my skin, that watching the curtains dance, is a luxury. That hanging out with my flowers is a luxury. That watching the hummingbird at the feeder is a luxury. That having a feeder to bring them to, and clean water and sugar to put in it is a luxury. That sleeping at night in a peaceful place is a luxury. And on and on.
Sometimes I wonder if the reason that I can't keep a regular gratitude practice is because there are so many things to be grateful for, I mean so many things, an endless list of things, notebook after notebook full of them really, and including the fact that I actually have a beautiful, amazing granddaughter to miss during shelter in place. Or, maybe it's because there is just so staggeringly much suffering in the world, everywhere I turn is anguish, my own and the world's, the future so unbearably uncertain it is heartbreaking. Just to have a notebook is a luxury, a privilege. Not just one pen but a host of colorful pens to choose from. The ability and the time and the place to write. And on and on.
So here I sit, precious fresh air hitting my cheek, wondering how really we live in such a broken world, how we navigate a landscape so filled with opposites, with beauty and despair, privilege and poverty, so much to be grateful for, so much that breaks our hearts into such tiny little pieces.