Today is the 14th day of a 14 day quarantine for my ten-year-old son, Simon, and me. We’ve been staying in an apartment that is attached to my parents’ house. We’re in quarantine because we just came from our home in Brooklyn, NYC, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak, and I’m afraid to expose my parents or anyone else to the potentially deadly virus.
Work seemed quiet today. I think I’m supposed to attend several meetings a day, but no one has been calling to include me. It’s possible I need to actively seek out a link to join, but today I wasn’t rushing to do that. There is an old pattern nattering away that is afraid I’m doing something wrong or that I’ll get in trouble, but I’m doing what I can to calm that voice. I’m always working hard for my students, but I know that getting myself tense with stress will lower immunity and make things harder for both Simon and myself. And if there’s a chance that I might die–there’s a chance that any of us might die from this–I’m not going to spend these precious weeks tangling myself in red tape. Life is simply too short, no matter how you look at it.
The most important thing now is to be present with Simon. Fourteen days of being together 24-7 has had its challenges, but overall it feels like a blessing. There are days when I’ve felt like a train-wreck of a parent, but today was happy. Lately, I’ve been more firm, but also softer. I’ve also tried to meet him with a wide bandwith for whatever he’s bringing, and to give him the space to huff off, slam doors, and insist on his independence as much as I can possibly tolerate.
Today, we went for a walk. This wasn’t his first choice for a lunchtime activity. He wanted to play together on the swing in the yard, but I really needed to change locations, at least briefly. I tried all kinds of negotiations. He did everything he could to get his way. Almost every day, I’ve yielded to his preferences, but this time I felt pretty strongly.
He walked several yards ahead of me, his arms crossed, stamping his feet, and made several emphatic comments about how I was forcing him and how he absolutely refused to have fun. In the past, I might have just abandoned the whole effort, or at least made a big showing of maybe abandoning it. This time, I just kept walking, saying “Thank you for coming with me, even though you really don’t want to.”
We walked a circle around a big field, on this overcast, windy day. Light rain scattered with the wind. I felt sad, and let in the feeling. It wasn’t just this conflict with Simon but the colleague who lost a close friend yesterday, the students who lost family members, the friend who is cut off from her family by border closings in Canada. The parent of one of my high school students who is a home health care worker caring for people with coronavirus and constantly afraid.
The starkness of the scene touched me.
I didn’t emote strongly though, mindful of the possibility of using tears and sadness to overrule others’ anger, a pattern I’ve been trying to short-circuit.
Eventually, Simon said, “Mommy, can I have a hug?”
“Of course.” I pulled him close and we tucked our heads together.
A pair of gigantic hawks (eagles? maybe?) soared overhead and I pointed them out.
“I’m sorry I was so grouchy and mean.”
“Simon. It’s ok. Really. It’s a stressful time. You can be however you are. To me you are perfect.”
He wasn’t willing to take that in at first but kept walking with me.
The sky was low, with sculptural grey forms shot through with light moving across the horizon, seeming to rest on the just-budding trees that lined the field.
When we returned, we played on the swing before I had to go back inside to work, laughing together, a victory for both of us.
The afternoon passed quickly. I worked mostly on grading and planning for next week.
Before settling in to dance, I decided to sweep. After sweeping, I decided to wash the floors. Lately, I’ve been washing the floors with diluted bleach every day, disinfecting all surfaces daily, and even washing our shoes. I’ve never been a big cleaner. At times quite the contrary, but lately I’ve been diligent.
I spent a few minutes creating a new wave for myself with existing music, and rolled up the carpet.
Today I decided to draw a circle to dance inside of. Remembering the box of children’s art supplies in the apartment, I went to see if there was chalk I could use to actually draw a circle. To my delight, I found a perfect material. Drawing a white circle around my dance area, I envisioned a space of safety and power.
Today is Friday, and nearly every Friday for the past thirteen years, I’ve attended Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves 5Rhythms class in the West Village. I thought about reaching out to her as I stepped in, but Simon was using my phone to play Roblox with his cousin, and it didn’t seem important enough to wait. Instead I carried her in my heart as I pushed play and stepped in.
The 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by Gabrielle Roth. The 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. At first glance it probably just looks like a crazy-fun dance party, but there’s more to it. There are no steps to learn or anything, and it could be any kind of music; instead, the idea is that the more fully you engage with each of the rhythms, the more possibilities you open up for yourself.
Having an actual circle on the floor was a good support in the rhythm of Flowing. I took my time, moving throughout it, giving myself a break from pushing, sinking into a comfortable groove, and bringing the focus of my attention down into the soles of my feet.
In contrast to some recent dances, I moved from Flowing into the rhythm of Staccato easily. I thought, “Wow. Staccato is the one place when I’m almost never crying. This is a good pick-me-up. I love Staccato! It starts and I just jump in and start smiling.”
Then, as you might predict, I started sobbing.
In the field earlier with Simon, I had asked him, “If you could command one element, which would you choose?” He said “Fire!” and I invited him to practice, demonstrating by imagining that I was throwing fire at a sports wall in the middle of the field.
In Staccato, inside this circle of safety and power I had cast, I felt the power of fire. I could actually see the same sport wall through the chaotic brush at the edge of the yard from the window of the room I was dancing in, and practiced throwing fire to it. Fire concentrated in my belly, but it wasn’t held there, it’s like it was always rushing in and rushing out. I had to keep reminding myself to soften.
Suddenly, I was overcome. Power was rushing in and using me. I was pouring out white fire, intended to incinerate the pestilence that has taken root, intended to annihilate the roots of bias and oppression, which are causing some to suffer more painfully than others, especially during this global pandemic, this period of emergency and fear and survival mode.
As with parenting lately, I felt more firm, yet softer.
In Chaos, what I was thinking of as the boundaries of my circle got more complicated. I felt like it was actually a sphere that was pulsing out. At the same time, influences were pouring in. It was no longer the sharp boundary I thought I wanted, but an intersection, a transmission.
Lyrical found me patient, pensive. Moving into lightnes today with measured exuberance, tilting and casting, using momentum, imagining my hands and feet as heavy, as ballast for a cruising boat.
Stillness eventually melted into sitting meditation. From there, I spent nearly another hour in ritual, still using the power of the circle, and the energy raised through concentrated dance. In writing, I invoked my many helpers, guides, deities, and ancestors to keep those in my dwelling safe and healthy. I also asked them to keep all of those I love safe and healthy, to eradicate disease and pestilence from this plane, and to protect the health of all beings everywhere.
I am in a trance now. On coronavirus retreat. Blessed to be able to withdraw. Doing my best to take skillful action, to express my heart, to speak against injustice, to soften and let the painful reality in, and to stay alive.
April 3, 2020, Broad Brook, CT