This picture is my favorite I ever took, when I was six — my brother Richard, then aged four, on a rainy day at Coventry Cathedral. This was my first-ever camera, the one I got when we went to England, when I had to hoard each exposure because I only had 24 for the entire trip.
I didn’t have friends when I was very small — I had my brother who was a year and a half younger, but my parents stopped playing before I was aware. I didn’t go to preschool, I didn’t have friends in Sunday School, and parenting strategies of the day told my mother not to teach me to read, because if I was in advance of my kindergarten class when I got there, I would have trouble fitting in — which in the end did not help, anyway. So from the beginning I had myself and my toys and my brother. I don’t remember anything of the first four years of my life, but then we moved to Denver, Iowa, and I start to recall things — our giant yard, a visit from my grandparents, sitting in a snowdrift, our dog freaking out about something or other. Mostly alone or with Rich, even then. I had two friends total through sixth grade, and one of them moved away halfway through. (Katie and Janice, if by some mystical coincidence either of you ever read this, email me!)
But fact is, I have always been used to being alone, to making my own fun. Still am. For me, social isolation is an extreme case of something I already know I can handle. The rest of it, we’ll see.
Now, of all times, it’s important to make beauty where we can, to find it when we can. I am at risk, as they say: there’s a non-zero chance I will get sick from this, a (smaller) non-zero chance it will kill me. Even if these don’t happen, I have lost almost all my public appearances for the next four months; I have no certainty of paying my basic survival expenses this summer. But do I want to spend the last month of my life (if that is what this is) panicking and afraid?
(Or any month of my life?)
Or do I want to, whenever I can, notice instead the birdsong, the toddler with his father, the taste of coffee, the way Colette puts words together, the air in my face, the feel of good paper under my fingers, Peter Gabriel’s early music? I say “whenever I can,” because I can’t consistently forestall fear — but if the toddler is right there, in front of me, losing his shoe and his father bending down laughing to pick it up as the child stands there looking up, nonplussed, like, what fresh wonder is this? — I would be ungrateful to the universe if I did not see and laugh.
And in the midst of all this, I am grateful for so much. My knee and my chest are healing slowly but finally, a month in, it feels as though it’s for real. I am wearing jeans for the first day since the accident, because the swelling in my knee is finally down enough I can get into pants. I have things to eat in the house, I have a car that works adequately; I have books to read and shows to watch, and eyes; I have a cat, and food and litter to keep her going. There are so many who have less. May I be compassionate and generous; may I be patient with us all, though all of this.