(Photo of Susan with Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley at the launch for A SECOND BLOOMING at the Memphis Botanic Gardens, March 2017)
Last Monday I shared stories from nine authors who contributed to A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, the anthology I edited in 2017 with Mercer University Press. If you missed their stories, CLICK HERE to read them, because they are wonderful!
Today four more authors from that collection are sharing their “Covid Stories” with us. Be prepared to laugh, cry, smile, and empathize with these heart-felt reflections and updates on their lives during the pandemic. Be sure and look these writers up and buy their books and read them while you’re spending more time at home!
What Colors Will Our Wings Be?
Today I woke with determination to quit coffee. I’m sitting sipping a Jasmine Green, one of the four teas I picked out to accompany me on this ritual of returning. I look out the window, the sun piercing through a giant oak tree covered in ambitious southern ivy whose desire to climb up the graces of the rooted old tree, to merely be kissed by the warming sun, I can fully relate. One of my girlfriends calls me a heliotrope, bending, stretching, leaning toward the light. A sitar plays just slightly above the sound of a leaf blower. It’s good to be home.
The irony for me is that after 30 months in a healing retreat, traversing the country from the NE to the SW to the NW and back home to Memphis in January, I was fully ready to engage with the world again. I thought I was there. To be forced back into solitude was two-fold: on one hand, I had practiced so profusely, on the other, what had been a solitary retreat had become solitary confinement and I was over it.
This experience has been different, ‘though. This time I’ve remained alone without the ability to socially microdose by eating out in restaurants amongst others, sneaking invisibly into yoga classes, or camouflaging myself between small groups of wild women. This period I, like so many others with or without humans in their home, in this refuge, have been forced into the deafening scream of aloneness.
Talking with friends and family throughout this time, I’ve found a common thread. It seems that whatever one was flirting with in the way of neuroses, great challenges, small issues placed in the back of the mind behind the commute, the morning breakfast, the dropping of the kids at school, yoga, work, the indulgences of masking the untruths, the disharmonies, dodged truth as it were, were all waiting to hatch in the incubator of silence. It seemed that whatever the slightest boogie man one kept at bay would rear its ferocious head in this moment of reckoning. For me that hidden fear, the thing I aimed to outrun, outwit, outlast until the position was once again filled, was being alone.
I had moved about so much in the past three years trying to elude this dark tax collector, but here and now, I’ve had nowhere to escape to. The mantra that I’ve repeated both aloud and in writing nearly daily the past three years since I embarked on this quest to be whole: I am love, I am intelligence, I am enough has taken hold and here I am as one: fully in love, my intelligence flowing freely, and a sense of fulfillment and peace amongst uncertainty like I’ve never felt. I have opened into full color here along with the blossoming poplars and azaleas. My infinite playdate with the Divine calls to me most daily. The neighboring Barred Owl sings. A bright Cardinal lands on my window stool. I can feel a sense of adventure sprouting deep inside the prepared soil of my soul.—Jen Bradner
Forty Days and Forty Nights
Forty days and forty nights. Biblically ominous, this lockdown has lasted noticeably longer than the requisite forty of any quarantine. A painful time for many, for introvert me this lockdown has been an ironic time of freedom and grace.
Suffering life-long from some mysterious force commanding me not only to “produce” but, as a first-born, to make an “A,” I recently have felt that dead-weight albatross slowly glide from my shoulders and land with a thud. The relief is startling and contradictory to my identity. I’ve discovered it’s ok not to read a book—the passion of a lifetime—but instead, once dinner’s over, flick on Netflix. It’s a wicked delight, like skipping school, to sink passively into a series, particularly when the writing and acting approach first-rate. Sometimes husband Jim and I find ourselves at lunch or dinner, forks poised in mid-air, talking about Ozark’s characters as though they were relatives (I don’t know about you, but Darlene scares the shit out of me). Justified’s Boyd Crowder is one of the singular triumphs of TV, and I’ll always carry The Wire’s Omar and Homeland’s Carrie and Saul around in the back pocket of my heart. I’m grateful to have discovered this long-sleeping self uncurling to life, shaking off unconscious demands of “should” and “ought to.”
This minor but delightful freedom is intertwined with a variant of grace. I was recently diagnosed with the last stage of an incurable, progressive condition. I am now on oxygen 24/7, take extended naps, and swallow a battery of medicines. I study the parched topography of my arms’ purple-bruised wrinkles. My hair comes out by the handful. Recently, three crowns—one, a center front top crown that is now a dark, gaping space when I smile (it’s really attractive!)—surprised me by falling out. Walking is limited and painful, I’ve gained 50 pounds from medication, and yet I am blindsided by gratitude.
Naturally introspective, I seek out solitude and know, along with Miss Welty that “all serious daring starts from within.” My spirit and I hunker down, sitting quietly near the backyard fountain among my beds of roses (hundreds of antique, peony-like blooms. Hundreds and hundreds of tumescent buds erect with anticipation), needing nothing more than to watch the flit and twit of the pair of cardinals caring for their nest’s newborns fifteen feet away, the lazy tilt of two hawks circling the evening, the shadows of leaves playing a lazy minuet in the breeze against the side of the house. No cars go down my street. The neighbors remain indoors. I have this space and quiet to sit with a Rolodex of memories and, now, newly-forming insights. I am quiet so I can hear. Although I know what is to come, I am not afraid. Some Mystery has filled me with an overflowing sense of calm and gratitude for every detail of this life—the whole messy, gritty gamut—and with gratitude for this gratitude. And I, heeding Dame Julian, know in my bones that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.“
Thank you, quarantine.—Suzanne Smith Henley
A Room of My Own
First I read everything I could about the ensuing pandemic. And the more furiously I read, the more furious I became. I wanted to DO something, anything, not just sit at home while people died because idiots were doing nothing. I fired off a scathing op-ed about Trump and Alabama politicians that might have used, among other terms, ball-washers. Shockingly, the state paper passed. I shoved my laptop under the recliner and thought of my mother. She died five years ago so I couldn’t call her and decided trying to make her biscuits was the next best thing. Only there never was a recipe. For several days though I tried. And failed. Then I left the kitchen and realized with my husband working from home, all day every day, it was time to make The Room of My Own I’d dreamed about for decades into more than a junk room. I wanted My Room to be a place I felt comfortable retreating to and working in, where my gazillion tons of research was accessible AND organized, although I lack the organization gene. Where I might actually even write. I set about transforming.
It’s not a big room, y’all, maybe 11 by 13 or so, but I spent the better part of an entire week trying to decide where the desk should go. And it didn’t get better. I managed to chew up 3 weeks sliding file cabinets around, re-arranging book shelves, and at one point, directing my husband to turn a shelf unit upside down before sawing off the bottom of a light switch plate. It was ridiculous I knew, but I was managing to NOT spend every hour of every day angry at Trump and his followers and the ever-alarming band of anti-science disciples.
The problem came when I finished. I had the primary sources and research documents I’d been gathering for several years at my fingertips. I had a comfortable place to write the book in. Now I had no excuses for not writing the book.
If only my closets weren’t such a wreck.—Wendy Reed
Wine and Company
It was a time we’d never known. This pause across the world. Unlike plagues of days past and years ago. This one with daily numbers broadcast for all to see. The ticker ticking. Clicking over one more day, one more sweep of a pandemic arm, one more swipe at life as it was. The past tense took on a new immediacy. Yesterday I had my nails done. Last week I met a friend. We drank wine in a Turkish restaurant and laughed and laughed. I don’t remember now what was so funny. Only the sound of her laugh and mine as they mingled and how easily they rolled up out of us.
Now laughter comes heavy, weighed with guilt or denial or a spring of tears. Unexpected. The drop of a hat. A man in Italy singing from his balcony. A woman In China crying her goodbyes. Those New Yorkers—God bless them—applauding and cheering the workers far below, death threading through their fingers as they whisper and pray for it to stop.
I pour a glass of wine, wind my fingers through my rosary like Greek worry beads. Step onto the porch where a mist is rising from the valley, the leaves of all the green leaning in to drink. And I wonder—when did we ever think—how could we ever think—we were less than one on this blue earth?—River Jordan
After reading these authors’ stories, I decided to end this post with one of my own. As difficult as the isolation has been for me in some ways, there have definitely been some silver linings. One of the biggest is that I’ve been able to spend more time with my husband, Bill (aka Dr. William Cushman and Father Basil Cushman). Here’s why.
My husband is a physician at the VA Medical Center and University of Tennessee. About six weeks ago he developed a cough that just wouldn’t go away. No other symptoms, but since he works in a hospital, he was tested for Covid_19. Thankfully it was negative. But he had self-isolated for a couple of weeks before the test and another week after, working from home for about three weeks. Since I also work from home, it gave us a special time together that was a blessing.
We live in Harbor Town, a neighborhood that’s set between the Mississippi River on the West and the Wolf River on the East, in downtown Memphis. Since the weather has been so mild, we’ve been going for daily walks… sometimes to watch sunset on the river, and other times through our beautiful neighborhood, wearing masks and smiling at our neighbors as we admire their spring flowers, or enjoying seeing their children on bikes or playing in their yards or watching the ducks in the ponds. Sometimes we take the gentle “hiking paths” behind Harbor Town, down by the oft-flooding Wolf River. We are able to remove our masks down there, as we rarely see other people. There’s a peace in the quiet and solitude there, just two minutes from our home.
I hope that you have found some silver linings during this difficult time, whether that be more time to READ, write, paint, sing, walk, play with your children, or reconnect with your spouse. As these authors from A SECOND BLOOMING have shared, our “blooming” during this time looks very different in each of our lives. I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment here or on my Facebook post.