I Pick up the phone, look at the numbers again.
A death toll is abstract and my brain mistakes knowing information as control. A map with red drops like water in a pond expanding. Awareness is not a defense. I wake up at night afraid for the people that I love and utterly incapable of doing much of anything. I made food at first, but it is dangerous just passing things back and forth. I go to a brewery to pick up a growler to support a friend, but we stand at awkward distances. I wash the bottle with soap in the sink at home. The cool of the bottle disappearing in the warm water and soap. We had friends stop by to bring us colorful, patterned face-masks that they made for us on Sunday. We stood outside ten feet apart, but it was a gift just to see people.
The digital meetups are killing me. The delays in reactions turn conversation into a glitchy half-assed imitations of what it is like to talk to people. I speak quickly in short jokes and quips with friends because we trust each other. I can’t do that now. I just sit and stare until it is my turn to say something that I wouldn’t say in a way that I wouldn’t say it. My focus drifts because it is more like watching a movie about people sometimes than it is a conversation with friends. It is better than nothing, but it works best with two people. Maybe that’s just how I preferred interactions before, but I miss people’s eyes in real time conversations, the second you can tell that a joke connected. As it turns out that tiny gap in understanding is enough to do damage to conversation.
The discussions all run like, “…wait, no, you go. What?”
Screen flash, new face. Next face. Next face. What did the last face say?
All of us staring forward at screen cameras in no particular direction. How can you be present? I technically don’t even have to wear pants and nobody would know.
Everyone wants to have an online meeting and I want to be quiet. I want to be left alone to process. I feel guilty that I enjoy all of this stillness and it actually makes me feel better.
It makes me better until I check the numbers. It is like the longest snow day from hell.
I get up some mornings that are the same as all of the other mornings and pour birdseed into our worn bird feeder. A part of the roof fell off in a storm and I pressed it back on to the protruding metal staples. The seeds have begun to sprout on the ground because it is spring. The birds don’t concern themselves with human tragedy. They chirp happily and fight over seeds, but I struggle to pay attention the way that I used to.
Ignore birds. Pick up phone. Refresh. Is it worse?
Why do I need to know if it is worse?
The evenings have been spent in headphones running loops through a synthesizer. A loop is a fragment of music that cycles over and over again. A repeat that stretches on infinitely. You fix the sound in real time until it works, or sounds the way that you want it to. It plays over and over and over and I don’t want to take off my headphones. I just want to stay inside the loop because I can fix that. I can fix the sound.
I saw beautiful pictures of abandoned subways and I felt bad because they were beautiful without people. They look still and gentle and I want to be there in that quiet. The images were emailed to a friend. “The whole world is an Edward Hopper painting now.” I want to be alone, but I miss my friends. I’m glad that plans were canceled because the business of this world was starting to eat at my soul, but I miss my friends.
My friend sent me a grainy picture of red Christmas lights formed into a heart shape. Chalk poetry on sidewalks. A guy built a picnic table for a squirrel and it went viral. That is the term we use for the speed at which memes spread across the internet, will the term remain? These are all human and beautiful things. They have a sense of humor and hope. The silly and kind gestures were a waste of time before. We were going important places and doing important things. All of it screaming to a halt except for the mourning and the loss. The towering and constant loss. What will all of the loss make us? A loss is a reminder of the presence that another person gave. The weight of a human life is what you feel when someone dies. I don’t want to go back to pretending a productive person. I can’t. There is time to make things that sustain life, regardless of attention and time to love and that’s it. When it is gone, it’s gone.
Like everyone else I am prone to taking my good fortune for granted and assuming some kind of nonsensical entitlement to sunsets and breathing, as if all of life is not just a given thing. The memory of what it felt like to live inside of this time will fade.
It’s almost Good Friday. The name does not match the crucifixion event at all. It is a bit like saying good torture. We pay closer attention when suffering is involved.
The car accident on the side of the road.
Pick up phone. Hit Refresh. Again.
It’s like we can only see other people properly when mortality is factored into the equation. We are all vunerable and temporary.
That is the tragedy and the value of a mortal God. This is the value of a death at the heart of my faith. A God who is not immune to tragedy is a God who remains interesting after and during a tragedy. A God who is not immune offers solidarity because that God was a victim of the world as it is. The fucked-up broken glass-all out of luck and money world. The world that most people are always terribly familiar with. The perpetual insecurity and fragility. The cross is the infinite becoming finite and swallowing up all of the tireless short-sightedness and boring impersonal cruelties in a single act. None of the badness changed on the surface, grace is a seemingly passive force in the face of violence. The everyday cruelties continued humming on as before. The day after Jesus went into the tomb there were other unreported murders. When a seed goes into the ground nothing changes immediately, the ground still looks like dead earth. I do not know the mind of God. I understand pain draws our focus and simple rationalizations hurt people in their effort to suppress the complexity of that experience.
There should always be hearts made out of Christmas lights because there are always people who need them to make it through one more day. There should be more than one Good Friday in church because everybody is not strolling through life whistling. It is possible to leave things open-ended and for that ambiguity to be restorative. You don’t have to overturn the world to change it, you make a picnic table for squirrels, any crazy thing to stay alive and perpetuate that absurd and unique life. The things that we deem unimportant and irrelevant become vital forces in the face of tragedy. We make art to stay alive and to give that life value.
Pick up the phone. The number is too big. Big like planets in orbit. Big like the pink moon over the silent and still ocean tonight. It is so quiet outside that a town in Massachusetts sounds like a small town in Wyoming. There are no planes flying overhead, no cars on the road. All of the looming quiet sounds like home to me and that haunts me. I have no answers, but I am here now, inside of all of this.
I forgot the phone at home.