I rock myself in bed at night, back and forth – self soothing my restless spirit. I am waiting. Around me the world does the same, struggling from country to country, individual to individual to wait out Covid -19 and variants.
Thirteen months have passed, and I have nothing to show for my time except my fortitude for waiting. Even the incremental steps that lead me out of the long wait back to normal life are making me wait. Early warm temperatures melted the snow and ice on the river seem so early I have an expectation of the activities I do in Spring. And yet, I hear farmers talking about seeding, while fields lay barren before them for weeks, and say. “Way too soon.” I’ve bought seeds for a garden, but there is still two months before the “Plant after the first moon in June” my gardening guru neighbour stipulated years ago.
The river is so low this year only the cement launch at the marina allows entry unless you wish to slog through metres of mud. I wait for a water level that will grace me with a shoreline, whereon I can pull in for a picnic, a swim – all things it is too early to do.
I wait for a revived interest in immersing myself in a television show, a book, a puzzle. Alas, I have spent so much time bathing in these occupations I am a wrinkled prune, all my desire for a good soak washed away.
I’ve watched and waited for special events I could attend each year – Ag Days in Regina, the Stampede in Calgary, Wings Over the Rockies in Invermere – I anticipated like the raising of a flag signifying a new day, the return of my life as I knew it. Slowly, these events are whittled away by government protocols, until too thin to survive – they die, victims of Covid.
Especially, I wait for that which counts most, the demonstrations that tell me I am loved, living my best life, blessed. Hugs from my children, laughing and dancing with my grandchildren, talking with my siblings in the same room, without masks. I wait to invite friends for dinner, or walk into a restaurant with a group for a celebratory occasion.
Waiting is different than just having patience, for it implies hope. If I hang in long enough, this too will pass. And I do find hopeful signs.
As I wait, I see the potential for many good outcomes. Lost jobs mean more hungry people, which has inspired sustainable community programs to feed them. The demand for a cleaner planet has accelerated the production of cleaner products, from electric vehicles to plant based foods. Forced out of gyms and bars, desperate for a break from children with an abundance of pent-up energy, families are recreating and exercising together outdoors, instead of separately hunching over screens inside. The long wait is paying off with new space endeavours, new vaccines, and in some countries, new, rational leaders. Grabbing onto these positives with needle sharp claws lets me hang above the precipice of depression, anxiety, wonder if it will ever end, a little longer.
I wait for an infusion of motivation every morning and rock myself at night waiting for release from this covid cage. Perhaps I will have a better understanding of solitary confinement after this. Like the prisoner sentenced to solitude, I have only myself as a resource. The strength, resilience, faith, patience I need must come from within. Will I have enough? Well, that too, is a waiting game.
No, I’m not a winged critter, though I saw plenty of happy fowl on my kayak down Swift Current Creek, April 9, 2021. Clouds floated across a pale blue sky, the thermometer sat around 11 degrees Celsius, and the wind was 22 mph from the southwest – a tail wind for the most part, I concluded.
Joined by a friend, I looked forward to this first paddle of the year. I had reconnoitred the creek a few days earlier, and though there were several rocky passages, I decided we could get through with a few short portages. We drove down the back alley behind my friend’s house around noon, loaded her kayak in the back of the truck alongside mine and headed for the southside of the city.
While she and my husband unloaded the kayaks, I danced about on one foot then the other changing my shopping shoes for booties and Dawgs, grabbing gear that hadn’t been loaded in my kayak – and in general looked like a newbie without a clue. For someone who double-checks gear, insists on precise timing and lives on the premise “a place for everything and everything it its place” this was an awkward start.
My humiliation increased as my husband launched me into the creek just after my friend floated away. As the current caught my kayak and whirled me backward down the creek, I realized the water flowed much higher and faster than three days earlier, and I hadn’t freed my rudder and could not put it down. I yelled at my friend and I managed to get myself turned around and up beside her so she could release the strap. Back in control, I promised myself a deep breathe. Not a chance! I rounded a corner right into a stretch of rapids that required picking a route through a boneyard of rocks.
From one side of the city to the other we would go through seven sets of rapids, some so narrow, maneuvering through the rocks at speed injected adrenaline into our systems, like junkies getting a fix. The high carried us down longer stretches of quiet water, protected from the chill wind by steep banks of dried grasses. Pairs of Mallard ducks came out of hiding and led us down the creek for some distance away from their nests. I enjoyed these restful moments, when chatting with my friend about the last set of rapids or what appeared ahead, prepared us for the next wild ride.
We passed under eight narrow bridges and found we had plenty of head room – until we didn’t! Coming up fast on the last walking bridge, I suddenly realized the higher water made necessary easement iffy. In the lead, I yelled at my friend, and as the creek swept me under the bridge I slid down as low as I could in my cockpit. With my hands raised, protecting my head, I felt the steal girder tickle my finger. On the other side, I looked back and saw my friend slide free. No decapitation today!
Now, I split my attention between the water course and my phone, so my husband could locate us for the take-out. As we yelled out recognizable landmarks along the bank, we approached another rapid. I dropped the waterproof case holding my phone, which I’d tied onto my kayak, and calculated the best route through the rapid. A jungle of rock showed on the left, metres ahead of two big rocks that rose out of the white water on the right. I steered right, heading for what looked like the deepest water between the two biggest rocks. My kayak should just fit. With my rudder up, the current caught my bow. I paddled hard aiming for a grassy strip on the right, but the big rock caught me, tipped me on my side and flung me over.
My paddling buddy passed between the two rocks as I came up for air. “What should I do she called?” “Stay in your kayak,” I returned, knowing we’d have even more trouble if she got out in the fast-flowing water. Gasping from the shock of the cold water, I slid out of my overturned kayak, and found I could easily stand. Now I faced a new quandary. The current pressed my kayak against the large rock, with such force I couldn’t slide it free. I had a steep bank on my right, and a 14.5 long kayak with only 4.5 feet of water between rock and bank. It took ever bit of muscle I had to pull it off the rock and angle it downstream, until I could slide it onto a low spot on the bank. I pumped my kayak out, while my friend backpaddled and picked up a few tips on what to do when you capsize. DON’T CAPTZIZE IN THE FIRST PLACE is my best advice. An inch of water sloshed around me as I continued downstream, located my husband on the west bank and began the yelling discussion of the best take-out spot. He jumped back in his truck and we met up on the far side of the #4 highway. I paddled downstream, did a quick upstream turn around my paddle into an eddy, where the quiet water helped me maneuver my bow onto a grassy bank and get out safely. My friend joined me. We dumped the remaining water out of my kayak, loaded, and I took advantage of the drybag I always carry with a spare set of clothes, and changed. Although all my gear was soaked, I didn’t lose anything but a plastic water bottle. At least, my professional packing and preparation paid off.
We both agreed it was a wonderful adventure – a prime start to the paddling season. I got the advantage of practice, and she received a lesson in what not to do, and what to do, when the ‘not to’ part throws you a curve. I’ll quack along with the happy ducks for a while.
Kahil Gibran wrote, “A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silence that I may dispense with confidence?” I discovered many years ago I need silence like I need oxygen. It wraps me in a cloak of wellbeing. If I do not sit quietly for a short time each day I become more easily agitated – wound tight, as my husband would say. I am fortunate our home by the river provides me with the blessed calm I need.
A writer friend described an exercise in sensory deprivation designed to prepare our military for imprisonment and torture. Silence, like an icepick or cattle prod, can be so painful a prisoner gives up secrets to escape it. Our justice system uses solitary confinement as punishment. The acts, seems incongruous, when I see quiet as a saving grace. I wonder, then, how people in a Covid-19 world register the dramatic change in the level of sound in their lives.
Pre-covid, many commuted daily through the noise of rush hour traffic or hectic subways and joined dozens of other workers in a buzzing hive of productivity. Now you work from home, in solitude and silence. Or perhaps the opposite is true. Where once you had a quiet drive through a small town, the restful isolation of your corner office, now you have children squabbling and clamouring for your attention, as you put together a legal brief at your dining room table. Or children used to the noise of classrooms, now study alone, minus their classmates. Do you welcome the change or wish it away?
Where once you exercised at a gym, music pounding, barbells thumping, treadmills running endlessly, now you walk or bike alone in a park. The sounds of a busy retail store and merriment of a full restaurant are replaced with the quiet voices of take-out and online shopping. I face the noise of yelling repeatedly into a drive-thru speaker, instead of the peace of five star dining.
One of the most dramatic locations for the change in sound levels I noticed is our hospitals. I found them noisy night and day, filled with rushing steps, alarms, beeping machines, floor polishers running in the hallway, metal wash pans clanging into drawers. In contrast is the empty hush throughout the labs and ER of our local hospital as surgeries are cancelled and people avoid going for tests. In contrast we see the scenes on television of workers pushing patients through hallways narrowed by extra beds lined up along them, doctors yelling for aids, nurses responding as patients call for help. I can only imagine the hellishness of the noise level, as chaos replaces order, and the number of health care workers and patients soar.
Rod McKuen wrote: “If diesels and dump trucks and gossips were words I’d feed them like kernels of corn to the birds and then all the thumping and bumping and pounds would come out forever like pretty bird sounds.”
I embrace this image, remembering all the times I’ve visited friends and family in cities. I’m good for a few hours, then my sense of being imprisoned in an intolerable world of noise and action increases until I feel like I am jumping out of my skin. My travelling days are diminishing as my dislike of the boisterous pushing and shoving of crowds increases.
A waiting hush has fallen over the world. Those who fill the hole in their lives with people and parties experience this emptiness with the same terror of sensory deprivation. I am among the lucky ones, who will take all the silence I can get, for as McKuen says, “silence is golden and soft as a tear. The soft sound of empty is the next voice you’ll hear.”
One of the women I interviewed for Chronic Challenge had Multiple Sclerosis. When she went shopping she used a wheelchair. Her daughter would take her, but sometimes leave her in the mall to run an errand. In a quote from the book, the women said, “I don’t want help unless I ask for it. Don’t grab my wheelchair and start pushing me down the hall, without my asking. I try to make sure others don’t take control, like carrying me when I don’t want to be carried.” Can you imagine her discomfort? The people picking her up or pushing her chair probably feel they are being helpful. Giving help requires first asking if it is wanted. Many people with limitations cling to their independence fiercely. Usurping that is a huge hindrance.
My older sister is a wonderful helper, but sometimes it becomes an obsession, even interfering, as when she tries taking over every task when I start cooking dinner. I enjoy making tasty meals, but her ‘help’ throws off my timing and neutralizes my pleasure. Definitely hampering! However, when I tried to put up my tent in high wind as sand blasted my face, her help proved invaluable. She’s also great on the other end of my loaded kayak. But only if I want her there.
My husband has had an ongoing struggle with guests and the dishwasher. Thinking they are helping, they will start putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, messing up his method. He asks them to leave it, is ignored, and so dreads the next time they come. His nearest and dearest now know to “stay the hell away from the dishwasher”. His idea of the best help is respect for what he wants.
Several older friends, still living on their own, appreciate the help of their son or daughter, when they ask for it. “Could you please change the lightbulb, carry that heavy box in.” However, one friend found her daughter had reorganized her entire kitchen. “Look Mom, I put everything you use most often where you can reach it easily.” Seems like that would be great help. But this woman had cooked in that kitchen for forty-five years. She used muscle memory to prepare her meals, yet now has to stop and search for everything. And with short term memory diminishing, food prep became much harder for her. Her daughter’s idea is a high fence she can’t hurdle – a hindrance.
An artist I spoke with described an amateur painter she knew who proudly posted a photo of her latest painting. Several experienced artists jumped online and gave what they considered helpful tips around improving the piece. Their comments totally demoralized her and killed her joy in painting. The same thing happens with literary critiques. Constructive help must be worded carefully if it is not taken as criticism. I appreciate a good editor and haven’t worked with one who didn’t improve my manuscript. However, I have given my work to family or friends for input and found their enthusiastic ideas took my story so far from the original I couldn’t recognize my work. In their creative fervour they hindered me.
I like using my initiative by first asking the person if my idea of help is theirs or acting on something I’ve heard them say. While visiting with a friend, we became too hot on the deck and decided to move into the shade of some trees. “There are cushions in there I can put on the chairs,” she murmured as she went into the house to refresh her coffee. I cleaned off two chairs lying in the grass and got the cushions out. She exclaimed in surprise when she saw I’d done it. Surprised, in turn, that she would think I’d stand and wait for her, I asked her about her reaction. “Nobody does those things for me,” she replied. “I guess I don’t think to ask.”
It took many years, but I learned to ask for help. The bigger lesson, finding the patience to wait for the helper to do the job in his/her timeframe not mine. When I began accepting help, I discovered most people take pleasure in helping. Accepting their help becomes a gift from me to them. And, by giving them clear guidance, I make it easier for them to help without straying into hindrance territory.
I confess I have my moments of backseat driving. I question the route the driver chooses and point out when my husband doesn’t signal soon enough. I also flap my hands in the air and make moaning noises if you come up too fast behind another vehicle (the results of a bad accident years ago).
My husband is an excellent driver, who has saved us from many a potential danger with his fast reflexes. His driving record is clean, and his flaws are minimal. But, when he’s the passenger it’s another story. It’s all about saving the vehicle. “If you slowed down half a mile before the hill, you wouldn’t be so hard on the brakes,” he suggests. Never mind I’m in a rush for the bathroom. “Climbing a hill at a slower speed,” he advises, “will be easier on the engine.” But not my stress levels as a big semi chases me. His worse crime, though, is clutching the door handle if I turn a corner fast — like I’m going to roll the car or something! (I roll my eyes, instead.) Intense scrutiny makes me so nervous my driving skills deteriorate in equal proportion to the distance I drive. Not liking the feeling of sweating armpits, tense jaw and rigid neck, I opt for sitting in the passenger seat. I’m better at being annoying. He’s better at driving while being annoyed. It works for us!
There is a big drawback to this solution. I’ve driven myself to many parts of western Canada, through cities to visit families, up mountains to kayak hidden lakes, into the back country to ski. Once I began relinquishing the wheel, I realized the experience I’d gained didn’t stick if I didn’t practice. I remember sitting at the stop sign, where my side road meets the highway and looking left, then right, then left. Pulling onto the highway frightened me because it had been so long since I’d driven, I didn’t trust myself to see something coming. Driving through a city became a stressful ordeal again. Handling a gravel road, or icy highway in a snowstorm a shaky experience. Relinquishing the wheel for so long had eroded my confidence.
I have a friend, whose husband insisted on driving everywhere, and had an argument for every time she suggested taking the car. Then he had a health problem that gave him blurred vision. Suddenly, he needed her to drive him into the city for doctor’s appointments, to the hospital for tests. Her fear level was so high she broke out in hives brought on by inflamed nerves. It was a good lesson for them. He recognized she needed time behind the wheel, and she realized she’d lost her skill by not insisting on taking the car out on her own. Avoiding conflict prevents many women from driving.
I can get in my car and go, whenever and wherever I decide. It is I who chooses the passenger seat when we travel together. I minimize my tension by giving up control. My back seat driving is an obvious – though mostly failed – attempt to stay in charge.
I value my independence. Driving is a huge part of that. I watched my mother reluctantly giving up her place behind the wheel as her vision worsened. On one of our ‘girl’s trips’ she failed to see an oncoming grey car on the grey highway, which almost resulted in a head on. She knew she could no longer take the risk of hurting someone and by relinquishing her license, faced yet another limitation of aging.
In the country my vehicle is my lifeline to food, medical aid, company, adventure, even for a short time, to potable water. Driving is freedom, the way I transport myself to the people and places calling my heart. I will fight as long and hard for that independence as my mother. Keeping my hands on the wheel is a conviction.