A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 6

Blake is still just sleeping.

Day 150: but whose counting?

I could actually go out according to stage 3 rules of pandemic. I could go to a bar. I like sitting at Cagney’s with a glass of Butternut Chardonnay. With a book. At the short end where there is just enough light to read. Three guys will be sitting in the middle of the long side, separately, one talking to the owner, another flirting with the barmaid. Cagney’s is a Greek restaurant, oddly, and the owner goes to California to get wines no one else imports. It was tough discovering in the early days of the pandemic shut-down that this was the only hobby which got me out of the house. It was tough that the bars were closed for nearly five months. It was also tough that I had to stop drinking. Something about medication and continual dizziness.

But I don’t. Go out.

I get dizzy listening to the statistics. We are leveled off here in Toronto, fewer cases, fewer deaths. For now. I’ve given up keeping track of the deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. I packed it in around 100,000 departed souls. No the statistic that bothers me is the one that tells me my chances of succumbing. I am 84 and apparently have a 75% chance of surviving. That seemed like good odds when I had cancer. Not anymore. Surviving Covid-19 is an adventure I want to skip. If I want to drown, I’ll just jump in the pool, I’m that bad a swimmer.

So I stay in. Except for weekly early seniors’ hour at the supermarket.

I spend the better part of an hour every day in the mountains of Kern County, California. Via Facetime. My daughter calls every day, realizing that I’m in solitary for my own protection. I know the place well and some of the people and I have her catalogue what’s she’s doing  there. The mornings are getting cold at 6000 ft. Autumn already on the wind. And some days I spend Facetime in a suburb of Brussels, which has seen a rise in cases and less freedom of movement. My brother’s bubble seems to be quite large, but as I reported in chapter 2, he also seems to have had Covid. I see my sister up the street a few times a week without aid of device, but we thrash over Trump every night on the phone. We should be suffering over our Prime Minister’s charity scandal, but the fate of the world is not riding on it. (The first 5 posts are available at 115journals.com.)

Last time, I talked about my idea of destiny https://115journals.com/2020/07/30/a-hundred-days-of-solitude-chpt-5/

In that post, I proposed the idea that we signed up for our roles in life before we undertook incarnation, and that as bits and pieces of God, we had a role in planning events as well. I pondered whether some souls put up their hands to play bad guy. It seemed to me that all types of experience were necessary throughout our many incarnations.

(There are several references in the Bible to reincarnation which the early censors failed to catch.)

I talked to a friend about this idea and she was equally convinced that souls fell into the role of villain through lack of awareness. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Soygal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and  Robert Thurman’s Infinite Life among other books teach us the stages of dying, usually pictured as different kinds of light ending in the vast clear light of consciousness. It is essential to see that light in order to choose your next reincarnation wisely. Confused souls are swept willy-nilly into the next life. This is the way people find themselves incarnating as foundlings who grow into psychopaths or bad painters who found evil empires or rich boys who are given no love or spiritual grounding and become men without empathy. These books encourage us to meditate on this path to clear light so we are prepared when the time comes.

I find that I can’t even keep the stages in order and my experience with death tells me that it’s not  the only route. My father, who was the foundling, was not even likeable and even thoroughly evil and yet, I loved him. Before he died, he made an act of contrition, calling each of the children he could get hold of and saying ‘Sorry’.  I watched his cruel death. While many others wished him in hell, I knew that heaven makes no judgement. He had put in his time in hell on earth, as most of us do. I knew that he had been welcomed and that his nature there was as pure and good as it had been when he was born in a New Hampshire work house and sold to a ‘nice couple’. Years after his death, he appeared at the bedside of a loved one who was in the grip of acute psychotic terror. He assured her he was there to protect her. It was he, of course, who had caused the terror when she was a child.

In another case, a young-gish woman died in a state of rage, which no doubt prevented her from sorting out firefly light from moonlight or clear light. Almost instantly, several of us were aware of a great love she was sending back to us. We had striven to help her on her way, but the people closest to her fastened on her anger and grieved without consolation.

And then there was Blake, my ex-husband, whom we sat beside for ten days. He was grumpy with his pain and childlike, still arguing that he should be able to drive when he got out of hospital. Eventually, he sank into a sort of coma. We didn’t stop talking to him. The ‘girlfriend’, who said old men disgusted her, got into arguments with staff and had to be led away for private chats. His son and step-daughter talked to him and held his hand. I read him Rumi poetry and sang when we were alone. On the last day, we were all 4 there, telling stories about him. He could be very funny, sometimes intentionally. So we laughed a great deal. And cried too. As his executor, I was ready for my final duties, but when he shuddered out that last breath, I lost it. I could barely remember how to dial the undertaker, I was so shaken, So shaken, that I forgot his clothes and he went to the fire wearing a blue hospital gown.

My sister reported that he made an aerial pass through her living room that night, blue gown flying, clearly in bliss. The next glimpse we got of him, he was hurrying off to an advanced physics class, completely absorbed in his tablet and books.

Blake was not spiritually woke in his last years. He had some dementia. He left me his confirmation Bible, which he never, ever read. I have the King James Bible, the New English Bible, the NIV Study Bible and the Amplified Bible, so he thought I was the right recipient. He knew that to me the Bible was literature. He left his fervent wishes for Bernie Sanders, who was still in the running, and a colossal mess in his home and his affairs. I have cursed him many times as we sorted it out, but Blake is preparing to come back and implement a universal wage. Presumably, he will branch into advanced economics next semester.

Which is to say, with all due respect to the Dalai Lama, the Rinpoches and Thurman, that there are many ways to pass and not get swept into the gutter next time.

Having helpers is useful. I have chanted with the Taoists for the departed. I have lit candles and prayed by myself. During the pandemic, I have been very conscious of the dying and the dead. There is an army of us thinking and praying for them. And Angels. I worried initially about dying sedated on a ventilator. No worry now. I’ve opted out. DNR. At the worst, I’d just die sedated. Now I think it doesn’t matter. We don’t need religion to show us the way. And we don’t need to be there with a check list: “there goes the moonlight, clear light coming up.” We don’t even need mental health, although the one necessary thing may lead to that. All we need is love.

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 3

The View -day after day- from my tower. (Taken after the Snowbirds, flew over to cheer us up, peutetre)

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

 HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE

I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)

My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.

In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.

Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.

This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her.  I come home and eat my key lime pie.

At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.

Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?

The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.

The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?

I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!

I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.

I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.

I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.

I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.

I don’t know Alice. What was the question?

As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”

Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”

Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death.  Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.

I had forgotten.

I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions