Leaving Le Broc, Tom and I took the bullet train from Nice to Paris on tracks so close to the Mediterranean shoreline, it felt as if we were passengers on a very narrow ship, and in only a matter of time we’d turn toward the open sea. Twenty-four hours later, travelling by taxi, airplane, and Uber, we drove our Subaru home to Angels Camp. I caught the sunset in the rear-view mirror using my cell phone, wondering what it would be like to come home after two months in the south of France.
I wrote about portals at the end of December, 2019, from France. Portale means “a doorway.” Tom and I had been wandering the long-abandoned streets of a medieval village built in the twelfth century. I ventured off on my own to explore the interiors of a few ancient buildings whose crumbling walls and roofs still provided some shelter from the cold winter afternoon.
For the last month, images of those ancient, abandoned streets and dark portals had been lurking in the back of my mind. As we followed news coverage of the spread of COVID-19, and saw empty streets in major cities around the world, we learned what it means to be sheltered in place as it became a necessary part of life in the U.S., and in our small rural county.
The entry to our home is no longer a portal that is open to anyone who knocks, and no one just drops in. Any visit with friends is mutually agreed upon ahead of time. There are only virtual hugs, and we sit six feet apart in our living room, grateful for face to face time together. I have never been so aware of boundaries, while longing to reach out, to touch, to comfort and be comforted by strangers, as well as my beloved family, friends and clients.
The first week of isolation, using the telephone to communicate with my clients, and trying to make sense of the news as it became more frightening with each day, left me feeling sad, helpless and exhausted. The corona virus pandemic also felt very personal…and present. I could be a carrier and harm anyone simply by touching them, and they could harm me, without either of us knowing. How can we care for one another without fear getting in the way?
Then on YouTube, I saw people in Italy making music from balconies, on rooftops, and leaning out of windows, separate physically, but not in spirit. I sobbed as I heard their song. It is possible to transcend this isolation with the music of the human heart. From halfway around the world, I did not feel separate from them. I wondered how, in rural Calaveras County California, strangers could touch each other so lovingly from a safe distance.
Two days later, I had to get out of the house. There was plenty of land to roam on our twenty acres, but I needed more space…and something I couldn’t name. Tom was in the middle of editing his film, so I gave him a quick kiss and told him where I was going. I drove my car to Natural Bridges. It is a magnificent cavern in the Sierra Foothills, open at both ends, with a river running through it. My heart felt lighter with each mile.
When I got to the turnoff, I was surprised to see ten cars parked off the highway, and another dozen in the narrow parking area. But the trail was wide, with places to stop on the way down to the river, so I wasn’t worried. The only person ahead of me was an older woman about my age. She turned and smiled, and continued walking. For a few minutes, I was alone, and then I met a family coming toward me in single file. The mother held an infant close to her body in a snuggie. As we passed, we kept the six-foot distance between us. The father said “Hi…How are you?” with tenderness in his voice.
I responded with “I’m OK. How are you guys doing?”
We had touched one another across a safe distance, and I felt happy to have met them. With each person I encountered, there was a greeting, the sense of seeing and being seen, and simple expressions of loving kindness.
I had gone about three quarters of a mile when three teenage girls seemed to leap out of nowhere onto the trail. I was amazed when they told me they’d climbed up the steep ravine following a deer trail. “You did that? You go girls!” Their appreciative laughter followed me as I descended to the river, and found a place to rest where I could hear the music of the water.
Alone again, I thought about the beauty of what I had just shared with people on the trail. In coming to Natural Bridges, I had crossed a boundary out into the world. When I drove back home, I would cross it again, returning to shelter in place with Tom.
In this time of solitude, my inner world is becoming quieter, more introspective. Tom and I are taking time to talk intimately about what’s coming up in our life together and individually, and about how to live in a world that is struggling to survive, something none of us has experienced before. Through all the very present fear and grief, the chaos and confusion, I am grateful to be alive, and proud to be part of the global family. To the best of our ability, we are mobilizing our resources and working together to save lives, to keep people healthy, and to share information for the good of the human community.
I would love to hear about your experiences making connections with the people in your life, and to connect with you by sharing a short video of the river that flows through Natural Bridges and its music. May you be safe. May you be well.