I took a walk around my apartment complex tonight.
I left my phone behind on the book stand. My headphones resting on the desk. No input, besides what was offered to me outside.
Though we’ve had a couple false starts to spring this year in Montana, with a fair few inches of snow in April, a smell in the air convinced me spring is here in full bloom. The warm envelope of direct sunlight brought me directly into a deep present awareness of my body. I felt keenly aware of every cooling breeze over my arms and neck. I tuned into the loud silence of the empty streets, accompanied only by the soft buzzing of my new bee friends and the song of a bird perched on the neon bar sign across the street. I could smell the burning off irrigation ditches as local farmers prepared into the new planting season.
Something about my presence to the moment and the quiet intimacy of what was happening around me made me feel like an intruding guest. Like I was boisterously walking into the room where Nature herself was napping on the couch. This walk demanded as silent a contemplation as I could offer. It was politely asking to be a sacred moment of silence. Of reverence, of grief, of ineffable joy. Maybe all three?
There’s something in the air, as if the earth itself is sighing with sadness, aching upon her own hospital bed, in recovery. In a podcast I recorded entitled, It’s All Part of It, I did my best to walk through the history of the Jewish people in ancient Israel and when they were exiled to Babylon when they didn’t respect the Sabbath for the necessary, yet inconvenient time to allow the earth “to lie fallow”. I get the sense that the coronavirus is serving the earth today, in that humanity is forced to slow down, socially distance, and take stock and thought in their locality. I can’t help but see photos of the Chinese or Los Angeles air qualities and think there will be other unintended goods coming from what seems to be only bad for us, our economy, and our livelihoods. It’s like the earth is finally getting it’s time to rest up, heal up, grow up while we are deep in our own exile. She’s feeling the joy of a deep, uninterrupted nap, yet the grief of her human children suffering. Where joy and grief meet, holy reverence must dance the space between, and that was what I was invited into on this plain, holy, spring evening. Here, simplicity and complexity get to coexist.
Again, I was taking a walk through my apartment complex. This physical location has been my sanctuary at my best and my fallout bunker at my worst, during this pandemic experience. Besides the seldom errand to the grocery store, I haven’t strayed from my few hundred square feet of rented space. This space can feel like a penitentiary at times or a monetary. And walking about these neatly manicured streets, past open windows and the doors of my neighbors, I found that some were like prisoners, others like parishioners. Like me, some find their cell to be a place of stifling house arrest. Others, like me, find their cell to be a place of serene contemplation.
I made room on the sidewalk for a small child riding his bike with his father, showing off his jumps off the curb. I smiled and waved to a mother walking her German Shepherd with one hand and pushing a stroller with the other. I passed open doors and windows of families audibly enjoying board games together, making music together, grilling divinely inspired red meats together. I listened to a young couple train their labradoodle puppy on a blanket laid out on the soft grass. These were the light, airy spaces of a monkish cell.
But I also heard a child’s cry after he crashed his bike on a loose patch of gravel. I heard parents struggling to soothe a sobbing baby. I saw a father on a balcony, video chatting with his son, beginning to cry when the boy said “I wish I could give you a hug, daddy.” I overheard an uncomfortable fight about who’s turn it was to take the dog out for a bathroom break. These were the tight, stifled spaces of a jail cell.
As the grief and joy of our present moment arrive, there’s that tension between simplicity and complexity. This is the same apartment it was yesterday, last week, last month, last year. But yesterday it was a prison, today it’s a monetary, tomorrow a prison again. The complex nature of what we’re going through is not a problem to be solved, but a beautiful tension to be managed. I’d even say we could learn to transform it from tugging ropes in two different directions to dancing in all directions.
Maybe you’re enjoying your quarantine in certain ways?
Maybe you’re gripped with terror, anxiety, and worry in other ways?
And maybe, it’s possible to be both?
Finally, I know deep in my bones the meaning of Dicken’s legendary opening to his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities,
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
While I took a walk around my apartment complex tonight, I took a walk through the complex.