We’re in Missouri right now, using my son’s high school spring break and visiting my mom- and brother-in-law. Yes, with quarantines and isolation and toilet paper hoarding, we are indeed living in interesting times, but I’ll be damned if I am going to buckle under the pressure. I am making it a point not to have the TV on all the time, enjoying the occasional rain and the uncharacteristic cold of March in Missouri.
All the libraries are now closed, so my writing group got together on-line. I had my son help me set this up, since I am a computer illiterate. Soon, we were on-line, talking with each other with our faces in little boxes on the screen, reading and critiquing our writing. It was a good solution to a problem, and I was feeling, very uncharacteristically, stupidly, openly grateful for computers and wi-fi connectivity.
I am missing my daughter, who stayed back in Colorado, because she has a job and college. But the little store she worked for closed for the foreseeable future. Right now, not many are venturing out to buy gifts from a gift shop or clothes from a boutique. And her college went virtual as well, all classes to be held on line. In retrospect, Riva could have come with us — but none of us guessed the future that unraveled over the last few days. In any case, she’s taking care of the dogs, and that is a very good thing. And I miss my dogs, too. However, my in-laws have a Border Collie named Cody, and he’s an incredibly sweet pooch, filling in for my two furry beasties to the best of his ability.
This afternoon, my husband, son, mom-in-law, I and Cody went to a little park located right along the cliffs overlooking the mighty Mississippi. We walked from the parking lot down a trail through the woods, and out onto the Mississippi River overlook. There were several people still around, some walking their dogs, others with their children, some on bikes. I was looking at the woods, and said, “Mom, do they have a fake owl here?” (I had seen several plastic owls on roofs to scare away birds from building unwanted nests). She came over and said, “No. … That is a real owl.”
We stopped and mentioned the owl to passers-by, taking pictures. I think I was grinning like an idiot. We pointed the bird out to everyone walking by, and families and couples stopped to admire and well-camouflaged owl sitting close by.
Then came the Mighty Mississippi. The Big Muddy. Whenever I see this river, I think of Mark Twain — specifically, of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn — especially when there was a cave in the side of the cliff nearby. This river, described in detail, left an indelible impression on my young psyche long before I ever saw it, long before I even lived in United States. Even now, when I get to see this river at least once, and usually twice a year, it still stirs something deep within. To me, as an immigrant, this river represents an idealized version of America.
Watching a couple of boys toss a football around, walking our dog among (but not too close to) other people with dogs, I felt far, far removed from the crisis at hand, the pandemic virus that some mistakenly dismissed, and now had resulted in death on every continent, except Antarctica. I was far away from the mass graves of Iran. I felt far, far away from the total isolation of Italy, where neighbors throw open their window and sing to each other (because they are not allowed to go nearer). Walking in the park along the Mississippi, I did not — not for a millisecond — not feel immense gratitude. Maybe we’ll all wind up self-isolating soon, and that would be the right and healthiest thing to do. But with phones and Internet and family and friends at our fingertips, we’ll not have to be alone, and with family, and games, and good books we’ll not have to be lonely. And perhaps we’ll step outside on a clear night, look up at the stars, breathe deeply and say whatever prayer we’ll say for the beauty of the universe.