So Much Life, So Many Lenses

Extrapolate. It’s what’s possible when truth is present, which it is not in these days of COVID-19, not completely.

As always, there are exceptions such as New York Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences. New York is a state and a city whose Adirondack mountains and Met opera I know only virtually, now the predominate means of viewing all life. So, I extrapolate to get a view of the state of my Florida, which I once traveled up and down and back-and-forth, as I did my own city of Tallahassee. No more.

No doubt my view of the news is skewed but I have a sense of comfort, an overall understanding, and that’s enough. What happens in New York City is not the scene in Tallahassee, we don’t have the numbers, but Miami creeps closer every day, and they must extrapolate, too, because they don’t have enough tests for their own numbers. Unlike the rest of the country, New York does have tests.

It is a virus unlike any other, one that literally takes the breath away as it gobbles up the way we once lived. Now we know the meaning of what can happen when a virus jumps from another species to ours. The only way to sustain life is to stay away from each other.

Even the word quarantine has a hard sound to it, as if social distancing were a punishment, which it is not. It’s a different life lens. It’s the view we have when life changes from what it was.

I really do know something about this as I’ve been social distancing for 10 years. It happened gradually, for one health reason or another, distancing myself from large gatherings, shopping the early morning weekday hours, giving up long distance travel. My immune system is compromised as is my spinal cord. It is best for me to keep my distance, less chance of falling or getting the flu.

Acceptance arrived but it took its time, as it is wont to do. Ask anyone you know who lives a differently abled life and they will tell you that binging anything–movies, TV shows, podcasts, gaming, reading, audiobooks–is not a way of life. Each is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of being disabled but not a one is life itself.

In Randall Jarrell’s poem, “The Sick Child,” a young boy confined to bed and beyond boredom cries out, “all that I’ve never thought of, think of me!” I first came across the poem when I was teaching college English in Wyoming, a lifetime away from the moment that all I never thought of, think of me would become my mantra. Then, I was in my mid 30s believing remission was forever, as if anything ever is. Yet, there was so little I didn’t know. Mostly, I had an answer for everything because magical thinking works like that.

Now I know nothing but opening myself to the reality of each day, whatever it maybe. I cannot possibly know what I need until the day dawns, as if it were that easy. My mind will not still the scenes of who I was or where I once walked. It insists on showing.

Sometimes, it’s the crushingly cold mountain streams of Wyoming where wind will steal the breath away. None of its bouldered paths will I walk again, gasping for breath above timberline, cursing at the caught tip of my flyrod in the ponderosa pine on my way to a lake that was once snow. No less in my mind are the woodlands of live oak and longleaf pine, sandy soft roads of shell and sandstone, sabal palm, and the shores of Saint George Island.

Florida and Wyoming, so physically distant and forever together virtually, sometimes so much so it hurts and then angers. With a ferocity of focus I cry out, “all I never thought of think of me!” It’s the words on the air that make the fury fade, as the energy of emotion reorganizes, evens itself out.

Something I never thought of does comes to me, not so much life changing but a broader perspective like  Pema Chodron’s we are always in relationship, even with the insect in the room. So, a change in perspective. Tunnel vision does tend to skew. None of life is perfect. There are cracks everywhere–they’re how we cope–these streaks of hope in a time of novel coronavirus.

It’s closing the window of what cannot be and opening the door of what is, meeting reality with equanimity, no longer blind by wishing and wanting. That is viewing life through a new lens. It is the past that takes us to the door of the present but it knows its place. Here, we live. There, we remember.

So much life, so many lenses.

The View from Down the Hall

A lesbian lives down the hall from Connie, not that she cares.

It’s a label she has avoided all her adult life and now, at 88, a neurologist asks if she and Babs “are a couple of queers.” It isn’t the first time she has heard that question (in so many different words) for she and Babs lived together for over 40 years but now they live apart with separate lives.

Babs promised to stay but finally, she found a relationship with her daughter, who lived 300 miles away. And then there was the volunteer job as a docent at a local museum. Connie was invited to move, even offered a house, but Connie liked being the one with the money and doing the offering.

It would be five years before she moved to be with Babs in the same town but in an apartment. All their years simmer, a pot constantly stirred, frequently boiling over, their differences the only constant they have ever known.

In her remaining years, Babs is immersed in what it means to be in the workforce at 86. She kept the house, washed the pots, and cared for Connie’s every need for decades. She doesn’t miss the life but she misses the Connie “who could sell ice to an Eskimo.” Business after business, Connie was a success.

Now, her mind is a jumble. Intersecting thoughts, their edges jagged, her past seeping into her present, a rapier seeking its mark. She doesn’t know daydream from daylight.

“If this is me, I don’t want it anymore,” Connie says, turning her snow-white head from side to side, blue eyes red rimmed, but her thin face younger than her years. Babs took good care of her, it seems. Still, Connie’s snake-like spine increasingly betrays her with pain and immobility, but that’s nothing like the longing she has for Babs.

Connie never had to care for herself so she never learned how. She always had enough money to hire everything and everyone. “I just can’t do any of that,” she has told me time and again, and I have come to believe what Babs told me, “I waited on her hand and foot.”

Their bond was that they never tried to change each other. Their differences keep them plotting, stirring the pot, making sure the pilot light never goes out. They live as if life–this one right here–is eternity and they have all the time in the world to mold life as they need it to be, at times demand it be.

I admire that, I really do. Of course, I cannot  know their lives, only what I watch through my life lens (with my own boundaries and biases) but it seems a badge of love, this life, for Connie and Babs.

That’s the view, anyway, from the lesbian who lives down the hall.

Looking Through the Life Lens

Waverly in Fall 0914
Focus is adjusting the aperture of the life lens to reveal the ever-changing depth of field. Sometimes, life requires a wide open lens—the big picture—often, the aperture is small, open only to the current moment. Big or small, clarity creates perspective.

The turning of the life lens is like a kaleidoscope, quick glimpses of what might be, any and all a possibility. Not all choices will be clear, even momentarily, but those chosen find a forever as memories, a clarity all its own.
Almost Focus 0914

These days, my life lens hardly knows where to focus for my aperture is wide open, the depth of field possibilities ever-expanding. I know that infinite possibilities exist in each moment but every once in a while life is so large, it’s hard to decide where to focus first.

Almost daily now, I walk Waverly pond and park for a little focus practice.  Waverly residents are used to me and my aged, Kodak camera. Many of my photographic attempts resemble a quick turn through a kaleidoscope. Later, no amount of digital manipulation provides focus but in memory, focus has soft edges.Losing One's Head 0914

Of late, the resident pair of red-shouldered hawks have been quite fond of perching atop the “no fishing, no swimming” signs that are positioned on opposite sides of the pond.

I have yet to get a focused photo of their perching but I included one in last week’s post, anyway.  From these two vantage sign points, the hawks’ presence on the pond and the surrounding park is a constant and clear reminder to all.

I have learned how close I can get to the hawks, which is usually just out of the depth of field for my Kodak lens. Auto-focus is insufficient so I keep trying different settings.

The hawks balance patiently, providing me one opportunity after another but only my life lens captures the essence of these moments forever.Ghostly Egret 0914

Eventually, I get a clear, sharp picture of the sign sans hawk. This is focus practice after all. Inadvertently, I capture a snowy egret in the background; its image more ghost-like than feather and flesh.

I continue my walk around the pond toward the egret, stopping to lean against a recently pruned ashI see You 0914 tree. I focus the Kodak lens through tree branches and find the egret looking at me so I look back. We stay this way for a bit before the egret returns to fishing, and I, to my walk.

Recently, the neighborhood association added a wooden swing. It is so comfortable that it is rarely unoccupied. From here, the view is as wide open as my life lens aperture can get–timeless focus.

The wooden swing is my last stop. Often, the hawks join me, either alight the light post or perching on the connecting power wire. On overcast, drizzling days, grub from the ground is a favorite.

Sitting on the swing makes focusing the Kodak even more of a challenge. For me, it is a swing in perpetual motion for my feet cannot touch the ground so I sit forward for focus.

The Kodak results resemble turns of a kaleidoscope, with an occasional exception, but my life lens continuously captures Waverly for a lifetime of remembering.
Waverly Swing 1014