On Saturday afternoon Bobby came into my office. “Hi,” I could tell by his voice that he was shaken. “What happened?”
He had just called the art supply store here in town, a place he visits 2-3 times a week. It’s a wonderful store and a great resource, especially for a small town like ours. For him the store is a lifeline and allows him to do his work.
“I was calling to see if they had a certain paint I need,” he said.
The guy said yeah but we’re closing at 3. It was 1:30 then.
“Oh, I thought you were open until 5 on Saturdays.”
“No, we’re closing, like closing.”
That morning, the governor had ordered all non-essential businesses to close so I guess that means no art supplies. Essential, meaning of primary importance, absolutely necessary.
I did that thing I sometimes do, especially with Bobby: when he gets upset I feel threatened and so I attempt to calm him down.
“It’s going to be ok,” I said. He looked slightly stricken when I said this. Understandably. Whom am I to predict what will be ok and what won’t be ok? And then I added the dreaded, “Try to take a deep breath.” At East I didn’t say, “calm down.” He handled this ok—I mean, he’s better at my attempts at control than he should be, probably. He took a few deep breaths and then left for the art supply store.
When he got there, he tried the front entrance but it was locked. He could see people inside but was afraid they might have already closed. He ran to the back entrance. The manager was just coming out.
“You have to call in your order.” He said.
Bobby got out his phone and called the store, after placing his order he waited on the steps. An older woman approached and stood behind him, a little closer than Bobby wanted her to be but he adjusted. He recognized this woman as someone who dog sat for us years back. She wasn’t a very good dog-sitter. First of all we had to unplug the modem and other electronics as she’s allergic to 5G, which is, whatever, fine—but the biggest thing is that Sally didn’t like her. When we got back from our weekend away, it was the first time we couldn’t find her—she was way under the dresser in our closet. Whenever I see this woman in town, she asks after Sally and I always am tempted to say to her, “Sally doesn’t like you, don’t you understand?”
But I resist. Instead I try to access the part of myself that tries to be kind and patient with people, my higher self, I guess you’d call it, who sometimes hides from me.
There on the steps to the art supply store, she didn’t recognize Bobby so he reminded her who he was, she asked after Sally. I think he said she’s fine. There was also a couple in front of him, the woman kept looking back at Bobby, like he had a disease or something, which, well, aren’t we all doing a bit of that?
We went to the grocery store on Saturday, I saw myself as someone in a dystopian movie…every person held the vague essence of threat. That old man with the walker, blocking the aisle. Is he ok? Then: The twenty somethings in front of me in line, buying a bunch of beers and laughing manically. Hm I don’t like that. We’re so prepared to be paranoid, to suspect anyone of anything. It’s as if we’ve been rehearsing how to live in a post-apocalyptic world for years.
Finally, a guy came out with Bobby’s stuff, an order that was much bigger than his usual order, enough supplies to last him several months. After they handled the back and forth with the debit card, this guy, whose name is Wylie and is really sweet guy and whom Bobby has seen several times a week for years said, “Well, bye.”
”Oh, right, bye.”
Who knows if they’ll be back? If the store will survive this and re-open? If Wylie will have his job again or if he’ll still be living here? And who knows if this will last three months, a year and a half or more. Will Bobby ever see this person again? And Bobby can probably order stuff online for now—so it’s not that.
Our lifelines, the things that give our lives meaning, are drying up. It’s so important to be thankful for food and shelter and our health--Yes—but the other essentials, the things that make up a life—art supplies, restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, bars and clubs, going out to hear music, neighbors—those essentials are going away for now.
It’s snowing here today, a surprising early spring snow that is softening the fears of the present, reminding me of things that are bigger than our human concerns: weather can be healing that way sometimes. Just as being in nature can restore a sense of perspective.
For now, we are left with a stripped down existence. Life boiled down to its essence. We are being asked to be as resourceful as possible. I’m also going to work on accessing that higher part of myself, the kinder more patient part.
It occurs to me that another essential right now is to bear witness, to pay attention and to listen, deeply—what might the weather have to teach us?