The coronavirus shutdown forces me to sit in silent contemplation, doing my best to control the one thing I think I can—my thoughts.
American buddhists say people in the West are afraid of solitude, of being alone. That’s not my fear. I fear the future. When the threat of coronavirus is over, will I ever leave home again? Will I ever chance gathering with friends or strangers in a group for a common purpose, a protest march, choir practice, church, AA meetings? Lunch even? How would I fit into the world with no connection outside of myself and Henry the dog? What would be my purpose? No wonder loneliness shortens life. It will kill you, this lack of purpose.
Hmm. Two fast-walkers below my window dressed head to toe in black spandex, masked like bandits. What are they talking about? Are they planning to rob the bank on the corner? Do they know the polar ice cap is melting and will soon spill over into Michigan Avenue? Perhaps they’re headed to Northwestern to get tested for coronavirus. I hope they bow to the angels fluttering around the Emergency Room.
Down the street gardeners dig up winter to plant spring by the goldfish pond. Those goldfish swam around that manmade pond the entire winter.
Blackbirds jump from branch to branch on the budding leafless tress awaiting the gardeners’ departure. They swoop in for a scratch-around in the fresh mulch, but ignore the goldfish. They’re not fishers.
The backup whistle on the garbage truck that normally blends in with early morning noise? It now pierces the street from the otherwise empty alley. Cars are so infrequent these days that instead of tires rolling over the road with a steady hum, their sound breaks the air with a hiss. hiss. hiss. Where are they going? If I had a car I’d be driving around too. I’d drive up and down the Drive to be close to my own wild lake. The mayor closed the lake path and parks for good reason. Chicago loves to be out. We’d gather there, on the lakefront, congregate. Spread the virus.
Those words are my thoughts from five minutes of meditation. This is how I talk to myself. How embarrassing. My interior life is a tragic waste of imagination—that grammar, those articles, prepositions and pronouns. The mundane. Oh, to be a poet.
On Being’s Krista Tippett hosted Stephen Batchelor, a Tibetan Buddhist on Sunday morning. His new book, The Art of Solitude, made a fitting subject for the Shutdown era. He said indulging in myself leads to inward wisdom and outward compassion. The integration of the two make me fully human. I’m game to be fully human, to be wise and compassionate.
But for now, I must get control of my thoughts.
Before Coronavirus We Were Dying of Loneliness
On Being: Stephen Batchelor: Finding Ease in Aloneness