Holy Week

Wednesday.

We walk, on the eve of the high holy days of the Christian church, in shirtsleeves and shorts. It is a warm, changeable day, but in the afternoon, the sun shines down, and we take the long way around the campus. It is busy with walkers and joggers and bikers, families with four and five little ones thrilled to be released and berserking, couples walking oddly matched (one big and galloot-ish, slow and ponderous; one tiny, frenetic, highly wired) dogs.

The sun is hot on my back, and the walk feels good.

At night, the wind howls, and trash cans detach themselves from the garage and throw themselves, prostrate, onto the backyard grass. Old limbs from aging trees creak and groan and fall into the dandelion-ed grass. The wind chime waves crazily; I fall asleep to piercing, haunting tones.

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Holy Thursday

Thursday can’t decide. Rain falls straight and hard and determined. The sun comes out; I check the weather app, which promises no more rain until after lunch. We head off to the fitness trail in late morning, and when we get there, we wait in the car until it stops raining again.

It is cold, and we are bundled in jackets, with knit gloves on. Jim says he’d just as soon sit in the car and listen to music on his headphones, thanks very much. Mark and I head off, buffeted by fat plops of rain. In a moment though, the sun is out again.

We take the long way ‘round, and we are rewarded on the home stretch by seeing friends march toward us. We stand eight feet apart and talk, and we realize we have been starved for just this kind of interaction.

In the car, Jim’s head bobs to 80’s rock.

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Holy Thursday, if it has a theme, must be about betrayal, right? There is Jesus with his closest friends, his heart breaking. There is Jesus eating a Passover meal with the friends who would give him up, who would not back him up, who would fall asleep when he needed them; they were friends who would, when fear clashed into loyalty, actively deny they even knew him.

I think that I should take time, after the static-laden evening teleconference meeting, to ponder betrayal, to think about the times I have been the betrayer and ask forgiveness. I could parse out those times dear ones have betrayed me, too, forgive them, let it go.

I sit with my notebook after the meeting wraps up with staccato, crisp farewells, but the betrayal theme will not emerge. A little voice tells me my pondering is awfully ponderous. My thoughts keep turning to odd indications of new life.

I think about this: at the meeting’s end, one of the board members asked the doctor among us for an update on the COVID-19 situation in the county. The doc said that all the COVID patients have been released from the hospital and are in recovery. In a hospital where they expected to house 350 cases by the peak time of the virus, there are beds waiting and ready for those afflicted. The numbers are far, far less than anticipated.

That was good news in the midst of bad, amid spiking curves of new illness and daily reports of mounting deaths.

But, the doctor added, flattening the curve means lengthening the duration. Social distancing, which is working, may go on for longer than we can foresee.

When I hang up, that is what is in my thoughts. Life has changed. This was a Lent of a different kind of fasting—a giving up of lunchtime meetings, face to face classroom interactions, coffee with friends, writers’ group richness, travel to visit dear ones and to explore.

The winds rattles the windows in my little second floor study. The furnace kicks vigorously on.

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Good Friday.

It is cold on Friday morning. Sweet gum pods scatter all over the front lawn; one trash can again threw itself out into the backyard. Broken branches litter the driveway.

We need a treat, even on this somber day of fast and abstinence. I mix up a batch of potato chip cookie dough and put a plate over the top of the bowl. I sweep the kitchen and bathroom floors, and I run downstairs to get my new mop.

While the boyos pull their coats on, lace up sneakers, and head out to the car, I quick mop all the hard floors, then pull the door closed behind me.

And we go off to walk at the college.

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We come home feeling wind-burned and vital. I turn the oven on and decide to make big cookies, rather than bite-sized ones, for a change of pace. I spoon large plops of dough, studded with butterscotch, milk, and semi-sweet chocolate chips, eight or ten to a tray.

They spread and rise and settle, golden brown, and I spatula them onto the big pizza pan to cool.

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For lunch I make a tuna sandwich. The boyos eat leftovers. Mark, who has declared that, at 65 years of age, he is exempt from any kind of fasting or abstinence, eats the last grilled Sahlen dog. Jim (who says, “I’m spiritual, not religious. And I eat meat.”) reheats a pork burrito.

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After lunch, I struggle back into my sneakers for my afternoon walk; I will walk during the time when, in olden days, we might be in church. Solitary walks free my mind, clean my lungs, are a sort of moving meditative prayer in themselves, so this feels right for a solemn day of remembrance.

But my aging hammer toe, which rubs against the roof of my otherwise very nice sneaker, rebels. It will settle down, I know, as I walk, but later, it will be red and sore.

A tiny sacrifice, I think, but then I’m derailed from starting off by a package on the steps. It holds my new hiking sandals, arrived one day early. I rip off the packaging outside, stuff it in the trash, go inside and wash my hands.

Then I take the sandals, an Easter gift to myself, from their box. They are not glamorous; they have thick sturdy soles and tough black fabric straps that secure with Velcro. They fit perfectly, and they do not rub my bent and aching toe.

I march off, a geek in sandals and thick gray socks. It is the best, most comfortable stride I have had in weeks.

I walk during the hours when, as a child, I would have knelt in church, praying in solemn, incense-soaked silence; joining the throng of pilgrims who bow to kiss the feet of the crucified Christ, held by the priest and his helper. The helper wiped the long-toed, fragile-looking feet after each kiss, and then the next supplicant bent and kissed them in turn.

I imagine that happening in a time of COVID, and I realize this pandemic has changed many, many things.

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I think about the pollution that has lifted from China, from India, from New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, as we hunker down in our isolation. Perhaps the Earth has its own way of getting humans to pay attention to its needs; perhaps we’d better listen.

I think of the fact that we have not shopped in two weeks, and that we have been just fine, thank you: not deprived at all, not even beset by junk food cravings. We’ve said, Mark and I, that we will do things differently after this: we will shop twice a month, and creatively use what we have in the meantime. We may even send our grocery order off electronically and just pick it up or have it delivered, keeping our impulse-susceptible selves away from retail enticements.

I think of the people with whom I’ve reconnected during these at-home days, and of the bonds that have deepened.

The whipping wind makes me think of that old adage: it’s an ill wind that blows no good.

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The solemn hours of the Passion pass into the vacuum, the quiet time, after the crucifixion. This—Friday night, Saturday—provides time to let the meaning settle, to acknowledge the supreme sacrifice made on behalf of humankind.

Time to think too, of the people who have died from COVID 19…the babies and the parents and the grandparents, the single and the paired, the artists and workers and the caregivers, the ordinary and extraordinary: much-needed and much-loved, every one.

I think of my oft betrayal of this Earth—my use of randomly disposed plastic, my arrogant waste of water, my willful driving to places I could easily walk. I think that the Earth is teaching me discipline and care during these pandemic days.

I think of dearly missed people lost to death, and the thought of some kind of resurrection, of reconnection, brings hope.

This is not a ‘usual’ Holy Week; my thoughts whip along with the manic wind, but now I try to settle into the waiting time.

When Sunday dawns, we three will celebrate with cinnamon rolls and hoarded Easter goodies, with a dinner of plump roast chicken, with walks, if it doesn’t rain too much, and with texts and emails  and calls that extend the web of our stay-at-home world.

We will think of new life, and we will interpret that concept with a new and unforeseen lens.

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Easter is the celebration of new life, and this pandemic sits us down, grabs our cheeks, and makes us focus. “Look on this,” it says. “Look on this, and think about what new life needs to be.”