Over these many months of 2020, I’ve developed this animal instinct of being on high alert sensing an impending disaster… but it never goes away and relief never comes. This flight or fright state leaves me weakened and easy prey to impatience which makes my stress levels soar.
Since early childhood I’ve been pretty slow on the uptake practicing the virtue of patience. I-want-it-now-tantrums morphed into impulsive bad decisions, into faulty reasoned thinking that I had some control over outcomes in my life. But I’ve learned these last few weeks, with a lot of time for reflection, that succumbing to the art of patience has brought me some peace.
This past May, in the midst of the pandemic, I applied for a large scale art commissioning here in NYC. The deadline was the 31st, and applicants would be notified late summer/September. I realized this was a long shot, but I told myself regardless of the outcome, I was proud of the quality and effort I put into it.
I managed to enjoy a summer vacation back in my home state of Maine but began to dwell on how an acceptance would impact my life. My lease was up November 1. Very soon I would have to make a decision to stay in NYC or return to Maine. Late summer turned into September. I was getting impatient.
Obsessing about it didn’t help, and I was making myself miserable, so I sent an email September 15th asking when they were notifying applicants. Two days later I received a reply: “…hopefully late September.”
What?! I complained, stewed, agitated, then tried maturity and prayed and meditated for an answer. On September 29th, it finally came: “…the notification timeline has shifted slightly, and we are notifying all applicants by late November.” !x#*!
And there it was.
Patience delivered me a painful noogie.
But I got it.
I simply had to wait and trust in the process, surrender to the present moment and the unknown. I know this in theory, but now I have to let go and live it. I have to soften myself to be more receptive to what is. Not practicing patience is like dialing up the universe and then getting a busy signal. This quote from the book Lab Girl underscored it:
“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” Hope Jehrens
A second lesson presented itself a week later after completing another art application for a museum open call. I carefully filled it out and uploaded my photos, but one of the questions was asking for a web site. I have a blog site but not a art site except for a Facebook art page. For some reason, I considered posting this, but when reviewing my app, I impetuously hit the submit button leaving it blank… even though I had another 24 hours to do so.
This impulsivity nixed any chance of being considered since the review committee has no other work to support a decision. This same jumping- the- gun impulse to hit “publish” catches me up too. One more revision might have made a big difference. If only I’d taken a deep breath and stepped away for a while.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)
My heightened awareness brought in to focus just how often we are challenged to practice patience and how our reactions to it can either add negativity to an already too stressful world or alleviate it.
After waiting in line at the post office, I finally stepped up to the window to mail an overseas package. The clerk greeted me curtly and it kinda went downhill from there. This time I did take a deep breath and rather than biting back felt a degree of empathy for this person. Any number of difficult things could be going on in her life. I didn’t take it personally and, instead, felt a kind of kinship with this woman. Maybe even a little love?
I read numerous posts on social media about practicing kindness. Kindness requires patience. So just take a deep breath before you blare that horn in traffic, show annoyance with that slow poke holding up the line, or respond with a nasty comment to a differing political belief.
My high alert feelings of impending doom are moderating. I’m still running, but it’s to a different higher ground, and I’m trying to be more helpful modeling for others how to get there too.
With nowhere to go,Covid has revived this simple pleasure and kept a lot of people happy and sane.
I’m suddenly fourteen again.
In order to escape the confines of my big, chaotic family, I sneak the keys to the car and sidle out the door before anyone notices.
With a heavy yank, the driver’s side door shuts withan Omph sigh of relief, and the outside world disappears. Seated in my tiny capsule ready for orbit, I twist the radio dial to my favorite station and happily drift away. This is my great escape.
The last four months of this new age Covid living have forced most of us to return to a time of simpler things, be it baking bread, playing board games, reviving family dinners, or taking walks. At the same time, the total lack of privacy, the bouncing back and forth between just a few rooms, living with a roommate(s), partner, children 24/7 is just plain contrary to the laws of nature. A lot of short fuses have been lit, eggshells crushed, and barbs volleyed.
In November I moved to New York City, found a sublease with a roommate, but left my car parked an hour away thinking I would never really need it. Although she and I get along and are both introverts, after four months of working from home and being imprisoned together, I started hating her. Everything she did, and didn’t do, annoyed me. And she never went out!
I know the feeling was mutual. This and the underlying anxiety of getting sick was quietly beating us both up. I wondered what were people doing to combat built up hostility over seemingly nothing?
And then it hit me.
They escape to their cars.
I suddenly started noticing one, or sometimes two, people just sitting in parked cars listening to music, especially at night. This seemingly innocuous practice would come up in conversations more and more about ways to stay sane.
Parent friends in therapy confided the car was the perfect place to have a session. He/she could have a good cry or howl at the moon without their prying-minds-want-to-know children listening.
Another friend, living with her adult, twenty-something, daughter, revealed she is ordered out of the apartment on a regular basis to allow her daughter some much wanted alone time. This mom is happy to comply and retreats to her car where she can listen to the oldies, NPR, or talk radio for a couple of hours.
I’ve learned second hand that Date nights of long ago have found a revival in the family wagon, if even for a mere 30 minutes.
And remember the joys of parking? Imagine taking your sweetheart to a primo spot on the empty streets of Times Square.
So after months of living in the now sleepy city that never sleeps, I pine for my 2005 Subaru and the simple pleasures it will afford me. I leave for a vacation in Maine soon and relish the thought of sitting behind the wheel feeling free once again.
The immediate future isn’t looking all that bright, but I’ll find the silver lining. This time when returning, I’ll keep my car parked out front. When the need arises, like it often did so many years ago, I’ll have my own private getaway—
Although my view of the world has literally narrowed, it is no less entertaining,yet, intimately, human.
And it seems that when we think no one is looking, whether under the cover of darkness, or in plain light of day, someone is.
In mid March, after the state of emergency was declared, much like Prospero and his guests in The Mask of the Red Death, people began fleeing the city to country homes. One early evening, I looked out my window to see a middle aged man (not from this Bed Stuy neighborhood) across the street furtively removing his NY plates from, first the front, then the back of his Audi SUV. He quickly stashed them on the floor of the back seat, got in, and drove away plateless, to … I can only assume… a suddenly sprouted pandemic entrepreneur who would attach a set of out of state plates so he could covertly blend in.
I was indignant. What a coward. Selfishly exposing a community with limited heath care facilities. But then I caught myself.
I Took a moment to be still, rather than running away with judgment and asked myself the question, would I do the same if there was a second home somewhere with lots of space and fresh air to enjoy? Ah.. probably, yes. But I’d like to think no.
A few weeks later, meat packing facilities are stricken with positive tests and must be shut down. Will hoarding of meat begin? I look out my window as a pickup truck pulls up, double parks, and a neighbor comes out to collect what looks like eight to ten large packages of assorted cuts of beef. It’s started already.
But then I remember the same guy who lives alone with his dog and who speaks lovingly and takes this pit bull mix out each morning and afternoon for a walk. Could this stash be a treat not only for him but also his companion, a reward for unconditional love in times of loneliness?
On Sunday morning, a homeless man sporting a huge, flapping coat and Nike flip flops shuffles by pushing his shopping cart overflowing with scavenged goods. He stops, carefully unpacks items from a plastic bag one by one, and selects an article I can’t quite see. He rolls it on in quick, short strokes to his mustache, rubbing it in, then his scruffy beard and neck and gives them a good rub too. It isn’t until he reaches under his coat and shirt and applies it to his under arms that I realize what it is.
I’ve worn the same clothes for a week and haven’t washed my hair in days. I’ve even skipped deodorant a few times in the process, yet I have the same warm, safe place to stay every night.
It’s Saturday night and a car pulls up and idles out front. A woman ambles to the side window, and an exchange is made. She quickly does an about face and returns inside. In these times of high anxiety, we can all use a little help from our friends, be it Johnny Walker or Crimea Blue. People gotta stay medicated in this plagued economy.
My drug of choice is chocolate, so I play the odds taking unnecessary trips to the local bodega.
Since the world has been put on pause, this virus has brought into focus our human frailties. Those frailties come from a place of fear. A fear of separateness.
Perhaps if we practice loving-kindness with ourselves and then mirror it back to others, we just might be a little more forgiving all the way around — get through this in one peaceful piece.