Call the New York Times. I have a hot news tip.
It seems not every day is going to be the same.
In some ways, that’s good news. Without some small daily shakeups, this quarantine is a long, viral Groundhog Day with no end in sight. We welcome the cat’s new routine of staring down the squirrel at precisely 8:30 am, or the Count Chocula that is finally back in stock at ShopRite, or just a different “flavor” of shampoo. (We will take what we can get, we quarantined beasties.)
But, even in this time of ossifying routine, we are still creatures who cozy up in our habits. It doesn’t take long to find yourself taking comfort in expectations that tomorrow will be much the same as today, that the squirrel will show up again for the cat, that there will be enough cereal for all the bowls, that your hopeful-enough mood will hold out.
The sweetest kind of sheltering “sameness” is the kind that tastes like progress. Yesterday your social-distancing melancholy was dark greyish-blue, but today there are flecks of turquoise. Surely tomorrow you’ll see a ribbon of gold sunrise, yes?
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it’s OK.
When I was in middle school, we were visited on occasion by a traveling troupe called Excelsior Ever Upward! Their primary purpose was to convince us that if we didn’t use drugs, our lives would get consistently better every moment between now and the end of time. There’s something to that (albeit a tiny and heavily footnoted something), but (a) “Excelsior Ever Upward!” literally means “Ever Upward Ever Upward!” and (b) we are not, in this lifetime, accorded the luxury of ever upward, ever upward.
We go forward. We go upward. We go onward. We get into the groove of growing and going where we’re reaching.
And then the days change on us.
We are not alone in this. Here I am, of course, speaking of cats. Consider Lucinda, a luscious, lavish individual if ever there was one. All glamour-puff and charm-cloud, Lucinda is a living Renoir subject, soft-focus and Impressionistic and the very picture of peace.
Presumably, at some time since the dawn of time, Lucinda has known peace. Surely, as a poof of a puff of a kitten, she grew each day in courage and stature, learning to pounce and to play and to feast on fish mush. We can’t recreate the story of Lucinda’s kittenhood in Kuwait, but we know she grew, and life grew full and bright as the moon, until it didn’t.
Through circumstances beyond her control — the kind we find ourselves in right this minute — Lucinda, having grown larger than a poof of a puff, ended up in a shelter. Where life was once ever upward, it now loomed ever bleaker. Somewhere, with steely sameness, Lucinda learned to be afraid.
And then the days changed on her again.
Before she could grab one last tub of her favorite hummus, Lucinda was launched across the ocean, all the way here, of all places. Kuwait became New Jersey became Tabby’s Place, and from a quarantine cage to the Community Room, life was, in fact, excelsior!
But Lucinda hasn’t always seen it that way.
As far as our luscious long-hair is concerned, life has not so much improved as it has simply changed, and changed, and changed again. She’s doing her best to keep pace with the ridiculousness, two steps forward and two steps back in a Kuwaiti-New Jerseyan cha cha she’s learning as she goes.
The changing world around her can’t be stopped, at least not by a creature. Lucinda is learning, along with us, to accept that. But, a few steps ahead of us, she’s learned something we could stand to take to heart: the internal landscape will change on her, too…and that’s OK.
Some days, she commands the Community Room with her beauty and her great feats of courage: the guts to shimmy into Sammy’s window box beside her, or the punchy pleasure of finding a new napping spot in a file organizer.
Some days, it’s terror all around, as the humans look larger and scarier and less wholesome, unsavory characters unworthy of yesterday’s trust.
Lucinda, unlike you or me, does not fault herself for feeling less hope today than she did yesterday.
Lucinda, wise as she is wondrous, does not condemn herself for not sailing in a straight line.
Lucinda — may she bear us with her on her cloudy white wisps — is at peace with her changing levels of peace.
So maybe yesterday was a banner soul-day for you. You wrote fourteen heartfelt letters to your elderly aunts and uncles, and you took a five mile walk around the neighborhood, and when you saw the Northern Magnolia starting to bloom it made you cry with hope and victory, and you praised God. You had energy again, and you believed that this grey, unimaginable time will yield to a new era of tenderness. Most of all, you believed again, hoped again, knew in a way that felt permanent that everything would be OK. You were OK with not knowing what that even meant.
Today, you heard that your favorite children’s author had died, and you shook with grief. You heard the latest “numbers” from here or there, projections and self-protections from people with loud voices, and it was all you could do not to hide like a child. You stayed in your “night pajamas” all day. You felt too much or absolutely nothing, numb and speechless. Your greatest acts of heroism were (a) successfully making coffee and (b) not punching your upstairs neighbor in the throat when, for the fourteenth time this week, he hollered “Another day in paradise!” down the stairs. You were not OK, and you did not know much of anything.
Tomorrow will be a different day altogether.
Dear hearts, I wish I could somehow give you an unending parade of peace-days, hours when your body and your spirit are at rest even in a restless time. I wish I could set you safe and strong in a true, timeless spotlight that will warm and color even the scary hours with feisty hope. I can point you and me to a life that never dies and a light that darkness will never conquer, but I can’t promise we’ll always feel and see it. The truth is, we won’t.
And the truth is, that’s OK.
Whatever you feel or don’t feel today, please just let yourself feel OK with yourself. Lucinda does (feels OK with herself, that is; frankly, she probably wouldn’t feel OK with you, but that’s nothing personal). None of us knows how to get through this with grace, but grace is holding us nevertheless. And until we can all bask in the music together again, we’ll do this halting cha-cha across the miles, together and apart.
Excelsior today. Collaps-ior tomorrow. We are, in fact, going to be OK. We forget, but we’re not forgotten.