Pandemic Memories

This weekend’s weather is not favorable for outdoor photography, so I looked through images I captured last week to glean another one to offer here on Intensity Without Mastery. I gravitated toward a flag photo I took at a local park. The sight of it swirled my mind in moments of the pandemic.

Before I dig further into the recent past, I’d like to mention I understand the pandemic is far from over. Thousands of people all over the world are still dying from Covid-19 every single day. I speak in the present tense from a time of relative intermission in the American pandemic.

I am hesitant to offer my pandemic memories. I’d like to think that my position through the height of the U.S. pandemic is unusual in that I am both a blogger and an essential worker. I put my blogging aside to avoid writing much about my experiences. In all honesty, it wasn’t so much an avoidance but a sense of being utterly unequal to the task. This is a thing which happens to me when depression rolls in like a fog. I believe that I cannot write except in a basic, functional way, such as writing lists or relaying instructions.

The current tagline of this blog uses the phrase life after depression, but I do not mean to imply that I am free of the affliction. I still suffer from episodes of depression. I just know what to do about getting the condition treated before I slip into a major, abiding case of it.

Now I will walk back to the matter of believing that I cannot write while I am depressed. This sense of incapability is not a delusion, for it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My diction becomes so halting and Yoda-tastic that I give up.

It did not help matters that my feelings about working away from home during the past crests of the pandemic were deeply ambivalent. I vacillated between resenting my predicament and feeling a sense of solidarity with my fellow workers. I very seldom felt sorry for myself. I’d notice that press accounts of essential workers were awash in varying degrees of pity, but I believe this sense of pity was a reflection of guilt some better-offs had toward the working class rather than the actual self-pity of the workers themselves. I know that’s a bold assertion for me, but that was my overall impression of mainstream press coverage of essential workers.

I haven’t begun to tell you the darkest parts of my pandemic life, about how I partook of and witnessed much myth-making of survival in hard times. I haven’t yet told you about how my mother went mad and raged like Lear against the storm of a Covid-tainted world, and how this madness exhausted her in a prelude to her death.

My sister and father would be far better equipped to tell Mom’s story, for she kept me away out of concern of contagion during the last three months of her life, until she was too worn out to protest my presence. The matter of who might infect whom changed day by day. Over the phone, she’d tell me she was worried she’d give me Covid, and the next day she’d say she wouldn’t go to the doctor because she might get Covid. Ultimately, the separation was futile. It is almost certain that she had been infected when my dad got it three months before she passed away. As for me, I tested positive for antibodies around the time she died, so I must have had an asymptomatic infection at some point.

In other words, we all got it anyway, which leads me to a frequent theme of the myth-making I mentioned above: We’re all going to get it anyway. Many times I’d counter that statement by saying or thinking it was deeply unreasonable, that at best it was false and at worst it was a mildly deluded way of risking infection. Then again, who am I to judge given that I too got it anyway?

The problem lies in how the myth of We’re all going to get it anyway reduces agency by treating the future as if it were the past.

The U.S. flag image I offer with this post reminds me of January 6, 2021, a day in which a crowd of people did the opposite by indulging in inappropriate agency by storming the Capitol. I tried to listen to the Electoral vote certification at work, but I turned it off after a few minutes because I couldn’t divide my attention between my tasks and listening to the broadcast. As I drove home, my first clue that something had went terribly wrong was spotting an upside-down U.S. flag flying at one of the houses I’d pass on the drive home. It had taken the place of a Gadsden flag that was usually aloft at the same address.

When I watched the news that evening, I mentioned to my husband how our city has a few of the same flags that the right-wing rioters proudly carried, and he replied, “They walk among us.”

When I think of my country’s complicated response to Covid, the first thing that comes to mind is that when some Americans say “Live Free or Die,” they mean it literally.

Xanadu

I took the above picture as I walked out of a grocery store this morning. The house paused in early remodeling a couple years ago.

The sight of it reminds that the past is both fragile and strong. I heard Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu” on the ride to the store, and the sound of it evoked one of the best parts of my childhood, which was right around the time the song peaked in popularity. As the song played, my late mother felt omnipresent with me. I was stuck dumb with joy.

While the feeling of my mother is strong, the particular memories attached to “Xanadu” are fragile. The details slowly fade away, yet the reasons why I cherish those memories grow stronger. I remember how people dressed, the clog shoes, corduroy and calico fabrics, the semi-apostolic hairdos on men. The people I remember sporting those styles are no longer young, and seeing their aging is kind of like watching the penumbra of my own eclipse.

The strong feeling I had of my mother as I heard the song tells me that time need not bode disintegration. There is life after death, and those who are no longer living life as we know it are closer than we could possibly imagine.

Dreams About Mom

I have dreamed of my mom several times since her passing, and the experience has been a great privilege. One of the best gifts Mom gave me was the capacity to accept dreams on their own terms and to be open to the possibility that they can mean more than the random output of the sleeping brain.

Some of the dreams have happened right after I’ve fallen asleep and seemed more like messages. She told me that I am loved more than I know. She also told me that I know some people who suffer (to use the same phrase) more than I know. The example she gave me of someone I know who suffers privately was so vivid that I actually asked the person involved, who told me, “Yes, it is awful for me. If only you knew.”

The most intense dream was on the subject of suffering. The aforementioned message was a prelude to a longer dream where I found Mom in a hospital, where she was a “den mother” of sorts to a group of a dozen nurses who were caring for Covid patients. Their shifts were so long that they had camp beds set up in a large room at the hospital. My mom was sitting in a high-backed chair with our dog Maggie, who passed away many years ago.

It didn’t take me long to notice that the nurses had something important in common with Mom and Maggie. They had also passed away and were helping to support the Covid patients spiritually. Mom’s favorite was a young, male nurse who knew just the right time to sit with a patient who was in distress.

Last night I had a dream that was absurd but noteworthy. Someone I haven’t seen in years visited with a black and white dog, and I suddenly had the sense that the dog was possessed. It had a distorted UPC-like marking on one of its shoulders that somehow indicated possession to me. I went to my room to pace around and do some problem solving on the matter, and Mom emerged from my closet. I told her, “We need to perform an exorcism on this dog before it goes ballistic and someone kills it and the evil spirit enters a person.”

She quietly replied, “I can’t. I’m expecting.”

I walked away, worried most about what a pregnancy could do to Mom, as if she were still alive, 71 years old with late stage congestive heart failure and pregnant!

This is not the first time I’ve had a dream where a woman I’ve known who’s passed away is alive again and pregnant. The first time I had such a dream, the woman I knew gave birth to her infant self.

Have you had any dreams of loved ones you lost?

East Kibby

It’s been too long since I’ve answered the proverbial siren call of an abandoned building. Nowadays I wouldn’t dare enter such a building uninvited, and it is in the nature of a derelict building that no one is going to issue such an invitation. When I was on the verge of my teenage years, I’d just open the door and walk around inside. The inside of such places would smell like mice and old magazines, and there would often be a dusty upright piano in residence.

This reflection on abandoned buildings brings my mother to mind. Years after the fact, I mentioned my solitary habit of going inside such buildings, and she told me that she did the same thing when she was around the same age! This led to a tangential discussion of haunted places, and she said something that revealed how bold her mind could be, “Who’s to say that only the dead can haunt people? We may have left impressions of ourselves in places where we used to live. For all we know, images of how we were in the past could be haunting people who now live in those places.”

Back to today’s abandoned building, it looks like it hosted both a barbershop and a church. The church sign is much older than I’d have guessed. I looked up the pastor listed, and I found his obituary from 2007, and he was living several states away from Lima at that time.

There are still plenty of barbershops and churches in Lima, but this building in particular makes me wish that it were a portal to the past. To have heard some of the sermons delivered would have been a privilege indeed. Also, my husband said that he had his hair cut at that very barbershop about 50 years ago. I’d love to have witnessed a moment like that from his past. I didn’t meet him until he was 50, so I can only imagine his young self clad in flared pants and a long-collared shirt as he walked into Allen’s Barbershop.

Gloria

I’ve taken very few photos during the pandemic, as if I could dampen the strength of my memories of this time by avoiding my camera. Of course, this strategy did not succeed in its goal. Instead, I missed taking photos of people and places that I can no longer see physically in the present tense. A few buildings I meant to capture burned down or were demolished. Wind storms knocked over some trees or pruned them ruthless abandon. I also lost someone most dear to me, my mother.

I regret that I took hardly any pictures of family during the past year. If you are blessed to have still-living parents or grandparents, I recommend the habit of taking pictures of each of them on a regular basis. Better yet, record video and audio of them. I wish I had videos and audio of my mom. What I would give to have audio of her colorful commentary when she’d hate-watch her least favorite politicians!

While the pandemic is by no means over, I am ready to venture forth with camera in hand again. Today I took a few photos near downtown Lima, but my camera had lain idle for so long that its battery lost its charge early in the walk.

Speaking of the pandemic itself, I don’t have a job that can be done effectively from home, so I’ve been reporting to work as usual. During height my state’s stay-at-home order a year ago, there was the weirdness of near-empty streets on my way to work. Then we had a motley crew of workers who came and went, some who decided to take a gap year from college, others who seemed to have emerged from cocoons after unknown seasons of dormancy. My husband once told me that the greatest unused band name of all time is Scrotum. I think all of the future members of Scrotum were working around me last summer, including a young fellow who looked like a corn-fed Adam Clayton circa the October album. There was also a guy who looked like an equal fusion of Sammy Hagar and Gallagher, but he evaporated from the scene too quickly to acquaint himself with the future band members.

I will close this post with “Gloria” by U2: