I am still spending most of my time alone, so my weekly drives to town to purchase essentials are usually combined with pleasure. I meet a friend for lunch, visit a gallery, walk around the streets. Just to be among others.
I notice tourists in their running shoes, coordinated dress, taking cellphone photographs of notable buildings, of each other standing in front of something memorable. Some older tourists, which is increasingly the case I notice, have a digital camera slung over their neck. They sharply contrast the locals, families with children just walking about, trying to do things as a family, a break from being at home in their bubble alone. Driving each other crazy I imagine.
I see a couple with several children of varying ages walking abreast toward me. None of us are wearing masks. The eldest girl, perhaps thirteen, gives me a dirty look annoyed that I didn’t step out of the way so they could continue without breaking the chain. But to do that I would have had to step into traffic. I gave her a look back, and if she could have read my mind, she would have heard me say, “Why don’t you and your group create social distancing for others by passing them in a single file?”
Grumpy ole me. I remind myself of Buber. Everything is Meeting.
“Who am I when I’m not perceived by you? Can I know myself without being in relation?” I’m talking to myself again.
And then answer myself as if it is a debate. “Monks spend years alone meditating in caves.”
“Sure, but what to what end? Just to realize that everything is in relation to everything else. That there is no such thing as alone?”
“Well, there is no one way to reach the top of the mountain.” I’m speaking aloud and suddenly realize I have been heard by an older woman who smiles as she passes.
Maybe she realizes she does the same thing. Maybe we’re all talking to ourselves during these life-altering times.
Then again, I hear myself think. Maybe there are families stuck at home together who might crave some alone time, just to think about how this pandemic has revealed how fractured her family life has become. How irritating little habits have become. How differently she sees things, and how those differences are becoming arguing points.
I wonder if we were together would these same cracks become chasms in our relationship. I laugh out loud, “At least I’d have someone else to talk to in person.”
I realize how much time I spend in front of devices. Facetime. Zoom. Skype. Mindless watching of youtube videos. How I miss meeting you in person. To feel your breath on my skin, the subtle change in the air when you walk past. We are atoms being shot through a screen, our impression containing all paradoxes. All contradictions. And those seeming differences are also the whole.
I return home. Early. And go for a walk in the woods and notice a stand of birch trees huddled together, as they tend to do, encircled by White Pine and Oak. The roots of the birch crisscross creating a spider’s web, an intricate tapestry of connecting lines and points.
I heard a scientist who studied trees say, “They communicate with each other.” I can’t remember if I learned this on Youtube or TV? Maybe it was radio. There are so many media options to keep us planted in front of a screen trying to engage with a virtual world, while the living breathing one out there unfolds unnoticed.
There are no doubt scientists out there who don’t believe trees communicate. They might be hired by logging giants who don’t want more environmentalists chaining themselves to trees. And then one could argue there is no empirical proof that trees communicate. But under a microscope scientists could observe after injecting a known disease into one of the birches, for example, how cells change, and then observe that the surrounding birch trees develop a protective response.
But what if there is much more they communicate? What if their roots have their own language? The way different birds do.
I notice a root of a nearby White Pine woven into this complex web of birch. Roots. The source for all life that depends on the earth for food and gives back to the earth. The earth in turn dependent on the sun, moon, waters, wind, air. Fire.
I stand on the roots of the birch and pine, my feet, my roots, and I believe I hear them singing. Like sirens in the mythical seas.
I sing out loud. In the woods. Wordless singing. Lilting lifting high notes.
When I told you about this experience you asked me if I’m okay.
I’m afraid you are starting to think I’ve become unhinged. Maybe I’m developing dementia. Too much time in my own head is making me crazy.
I’m afraid if you think that it will alter how we meet the next time? And then each time after that? If it is true would our past be all I will have to connect with?
Would you feel you must still try to rescue me from the rabbit hole you think I keep going down? Or do you fear that if we both dove down, we might lose our moorings and set off into the unknown world, like Odysseus, without a compass, without provisions, without a clue where the journey could take us? Madness or enlightenment. Would you follow?
If you heard me singing among the birch trees believing I have lost my mind, that I have contracted a disease requiring treatment, would you try to bring me out of it, take us to the past so I can be reminded of who I was? Before.
Or would you see joy, an inexplicable momentary ecstasy, and sing with me, just for the hell of it, even though you hear a different song. Even though you don’t really believe my story.
Is this madness?
Is this ecstasy?
Everything is meeting.