Some days the most exciting thing that happens around here is that a chickadee takes a bath. A bathing chickadee is a cheerful sight. After checking carefully for owls and hawks, he wades into the birdbath and does a kind of shimmy, dipping his head, fluffing his feathers, slapping his wings, and sending up sprays of shiny droplets.
Other than that, there’s not much going on, so it’s not surprising that many of us are treating this period of seclusion as a time set apart—a pause, a break during which the clock stops ticking. A time in detention, or in suspended animation, or in hibernation. A chunk of life held between parentheses that will melt away when things get better and we go back to normal.
I remember my two pregnancies, when my entire being was focused on the resolution of that exceptional state, and daily events seemed not to matter as, like an accomplished meditator, I turned my focus over and over to the coming baby. But those two nine-month waits were joyous times, unlike the last nine months, during which I’ve often felt that, like Rosemary, the season was pregnant with the devil.
Yet every day spent in this waiting is subtracted from the number of days that remain in my one and only passage through this world. I am like the bird that flies out of the darkness of nonbeing into a great lighted hall, and heads straight towards the window that is open to the darkness on the other side. My wings are beating faster; the window into the waiting night is getting closer; and the goings-on inside the hall grow more perilous by the moment. Will everything explode before I’ve gone?
I’ve been waiting for the explosion since 2016. Surely, I’ve been saying along with millions of others, this cannot go on. It will not last. Things will go back to the imperfect but tolerable way they used to be. So let’s hold our breath and take a nap and think of something else. Something positive. Let us smile though our heart is breaking, because surely the sun will come out again, tomorrow.
And then the universe, or the Goddess, or the Holy Spirit flung this at me, from Rilke:
…How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
seasons of us,
our winter-enduring foliage, ponds, meadows, our inborn landscape,
where birds and reed-dwelling creatures are at home.*
Winter is coming, in more ways than one, and it would be a waste to spend it hankering for spring. Instead, let us find refuge in our inborn landscape, and feel at home.
*The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House, 1982).