The last time I was in downtown Santa Barbara, it snowed blossoms. I could not have imagined that a pandemic was about to change the world, and that soon my casual wanders into town from the northern part of the county would be poignant memories. But on this particular day, as I strolled along State Street, a warm gust of wind shook white petals from the trees and tossed them into the air, a blizzard of blossoms that circled everyone in silence and slow motion. I stopped in my tracks, enchanted. In bare branches nearby, a chorus of black crows watched. I don’t know why, but people kept hurrying along as if nothing amazing were happening, and I wanted to shout, “Look!”
That’s the way it is sometimes. It might be the quality of light, a fragment of fragrance or bird song, or a snowstorm of feathery blossoms — wonder and bliss wash over me, and my heart swells with gratitude. I call these I-love-my-life moments. They don’t last, of course, but while they do, they are a kind of enlightenment, and they are real. Even now, in this time of loss and suffering, the miracles glimmer.
Back home in Gaviota, we tend to be isolated anyway, but nowadays we’re living by even more restrictive protocols, and I am suspended in time here, trying to make sense of things. (I realize that this is a First World problem — how many of us have the luxury of pondering?) But even as my wants and furies smolder, I know I am learning patience and restraint, and I truly believe that our journeys will be clarified, and our strengths and virtues magnified in the days ahead. There are new forms of hope in the ruins. Have we ever been so aware of injustice and our duty to make amends? Have we ever been so open about expressing our love for one another?
In the summer, a few masked friends and I held outdoor “summer school” gatherings for some of the local ranch children twice a week. One day, we distributed blank journals, and I talked about how I started writing my thoughts and memories in one as a child long ago. There was great exuberance about decorating them, with paint and collage papers and all sorts of ingenious adornments, and not many words written within. But with Jim strumming guitar music, Jo bringing forth treasures, and everything dappled in sunlight, a feeling arose that was both festive and intimate.
Then a 5-year-old girl paused from gluing seashells and layering thick blotches of acrylic paint onto her journal book, looked up at me, her eyes wide and honest and surprisingly sad, and said what we’ve all been feeling: “I wish this sickness wasn’t happening.”
It brought home to me a sudden awareness of how much this pandemic is affecting the children, even those most sheltered and indulged. It touched my heart, and I felt a surge of maternal protectiveness, and I tried to be reassuring. I admitted that we all feel that way, and it’s hard, but that people have gone through periods like this before, and things eventually got better, and we’re helping by being extra careful and considerate, and look, even right now, nestled inside of this difficult time, there are happy things happening, like this.
I told her, too, that I respected the way she expressed her feelings, and I tried to slip in a pitch for the journal as a place in which to record such thoughts. She’s only 5, but she turned and immersed herself in her journal in her own way, decorating not only the cover, but the inside of it, and doing so with free-wheeling creativity and sustained concentration. As I walked home, I noticed my hands sparkling with glitter. I wondered what our little time travelers will remember of these days.
I meant what I said to that precious child: There are happy things happening too in this weird pandemic time. Just yesterday, I was standing out on the deck, and the pungent scent of a geranium wafted toward me, and I felt the warmth of the stucco and the dry grassy hills, and a door creaked, and my mother-in-law stepped outside into the garden, and everything was bright and stark, and totally sufficient, and I was spellbound, suspended in vivid nowness. And sometimes it snows blossoms.
Oh, I wish this sickness wasn’t happening. But let’s help each other through.
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