Things I wrote even two or three days ago seem so dated now. The pandemic is intensifying in this region.
I’m in the eleventh day of a 14-day quarantine in an apartment attached to my parents’ house, along with my ten-year-old son, Simon. We are in quarantine because we just came from Brooklyn, NYC, the epicenter of the United States coronavirus plague, and I’m afraid to expose my parents.
Fear, sadness, and anxiety come in waves.
My work is to teach meditation to teens in a Brooklyn High School, and in a matter of days, like many other teachers, I had to make the pivot to online teaching. I’ve been working tirelessly to engage my students, but at this point less than half are actively participating in the online class. So I sent an email to their parents to let them know their students’ status. One parent responded that she is working 12 hour shifts and it is hard to keep up with her child’s assignments.
I realized how insensitive my email was, given the circumstances.
Some of the parents of my students are low wage health care workers. Many are working long shifts caring for people infected with coronavirus, seeing up close how horrific the disease can be. They are risking their lives, day after day after day. Some are doing it because of altruism and a deep calling to serve. Some are doing it because they absolutely have to work, and do not have the resources to take any time off. Many are single parents.
This is a slap in the face about the real impact of bias in our society, and one of the infinite ways coronavirus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. I thought about the privilege of being able to withdraw from NYC, and the fact that there are many people who don’t have the same option.
And I’m seriously bugging parents about their kids doing their classwork. Really?
Some of my students have a parent or grandparent who already has the virus.
There is now an emergency tent hospital in the middle of central park. A US Navy hospital ship arrived Monday to help exhausted health care workers as they toil, often lacking even basic protective supplies.
In answer to a writing prompt, “What is one thing you wonder?” One student wrote, “I wonder if it’s even safe to go outside and get a breath of fresh air.”
Every day, I start with a period of meditation, before the sun is even up. I transported my entire altar box and all of its contents to our new location, and re-created the exact altar that I had in Brooklyn right before we left. I also brought many of my cherished books, and arranged them beautifully near the altar.
Lately, my morning meditation feels more like prayer than meditation, as I focus energy and attention on wishing health and safety for everyone I love and for all beings, mixed with other meditation practices and contemplations.
I have to clock in to work at 8:15 but most days I start long before, after taking a shower, trying my best to get Simon oriented to his schoolwork, and having breakfast.
I make sure we get outside at lunchtime, and again after my workday ends at 2:50. We play on the swing in the yard and laugh. Sometimes I can even convince Simon to play soccer or take a bike ride with me.
Yesterday, I heard my mom crying through the wall, and learned that the son of one of her friends is in hospice.
Today, she told me that my cherished great aunt is not doing well, either. Her 100th birthday is this spring, but since she has been isolated and has no visitors, and therefore nothing to anchor her to this world, she has been dissolving into spirit. She lives next door to my parents’ house, in the same house that she and my paternal grandfather grew up in with their parents, my great grandparents.
I wanted to run next door to support her in her transition. I rushed out in the direction of the house, without even a coat, and just stood there, crossing my arms to hold my sides, knowing that I couldn’t go in. That I wouldn’t have a chance even to say good-bye.
I was crying, of course. And Simon wanted to know why I was crying. I told him and he started crying, too. We went for a walk, talking about what happens after you die and sharing jokes. I brought up Gabrielle Roth, the mother of the 5Rhythms practice, and told him I didn’t think dying was so bad for her. He said, “Yeah, but she was this crazy witch dancer…” I didn’t respond but had to smile, at least for a moment.
I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for practice. Most days I do yoga, which helps me to feel grounded and flexible.
I also dance the 5Rhythms for at least one wave a day. And I’ve been recording myself, which is a new habit. I can’t even keep the videos because they take up too much space, but it is interesting to watch myself when I play it back in the evening.
Today, Flowing did not come easily. It was hard to settle down, and I noticed that I wanted to move into Staccato quickly. Maybe there was just too much to let in today.
I can hear Simon talking with his friends on video chat throughout the video as I play it back…One source of private guilt is that pretty much all of the time that I’m in formal practice, he’s on a screen chatting with friends or playing Roblox with them. He blows through his schoolwork in under two hours most days.
At the start of the video, I squat in front of the altar and dedicate my practice to my ailing great aunt, Mae Grigely, and acknowledge the power of practicing for someone else.
Staccato never fully ignites today, either.
In Chaos I come alive though, with speed, resistance, release, and wild surrender, spinning and letting momentum fling me to all kinds of edges. The gap when the beat drops out seems to be when I get the most creative.
The Chaos Lyrical song I chose is 165 beats per minute, and I twitter wildly, racing to express the layered, exploding sounds. I pause briefly and leave the room to address one of Simon’s questions, then resume this ultra fast dance, responding more and more to the melody and less to the wild rhythm and rising upward as the track evolves.
In the second Lyrical track I am transported, moving with soaring undulations, the afternoon sun in one vertical rectangle catching different parts of my body as I move.
In Lyrical Stillness I cry throughout the track, singing part of the lyric in jagged gasps. I cry again watching myself. I look so alive and so sad. My heart was broken in this part, is broken.
“Ewwwwww!” Simon screams from the other room, for some unknown reason.
I whisper-sob through the last song, sensing my grandfather, who once lived in the very room that I am dancing in. He loved the ocean, and would make the Christian sign of the cross as he waded into the sea. He would fold his hands behind his head, cross his ankles, and float on the bobbing waves for long periods with his face to the clouds. He was a man of few words, but I always thought this was a kind of prayer for him.
I end in a squat in front of the altar, as I had started, dedicating the merit of my practice to my aunt and to all beings everywhere.
Today, this period seems more like a time of survival than of possibility. One of my meditation teachers led an online practice and talk tonight, and he reminded us to do what we can to stay connected to our humanity. My practices encourage me to open to the reality I’m immersed in, knowing that every moment is a chance to deepen in my ability to be present, even when it is uncomfortable, stressful, painful, or sheer agony.
In the words of Pema Chӧdrӧn in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “If you can stay present in even the most challenging circumstances, the intensity of the situation will transform you. When you can see even the worst of hells as a place where you can awaken, your world will change dramatically.”
May it be so. Blessed be.
March 31, 2020, Broad Brook, CT
(Photo1: military.com, photo2: News7)