In South India in February, March and April 1997 we kept our hands off banisters when we visited friends in the Metropole Hotel and didn’t hold onto railings of rickshaws. We stopped sticking our fingers in our mouths and washed our mangos, papayas and bananas before peeling. In Tiruvannamalai we watched how others shook the small drops of water from their plate before holding it up to receive the thali meal and we repeated the gesture. We covered our mouth with a corner of our shawl (and our hand covered our mouth while talking closely to the guru). Before and after eating and using the toilet, we washed our hands and our feet. And after we walked around the sacred hill on the inner path, Arunachala, we swam in a sacred pond and kept our mouths shut. We climbed up to the cave where Ramana Ma Harishi sat, expecting enlightenment, and stamped and shooed the monkeys away. We passed each other with our palms together as if paused in mid-applause. We lined up on the road and bowed at the guru’s car. And there he is waving and smiling! We placed our sandals outside the temple, soles up. We walked down the road from our ashram, to the main ashram, and heard peacocks. First the sound formed in our left temples, then it grew inside, and all through our bodies.
We rode the red bus and climbed to the top of roofs wherever we were, in Mysore, or Bylakupe, the Tibetan refuge monastery. And we watched the swallows dive for mosquitoes and sang the chants we were taught as the sun grew before it fell.
Now It’s 2020. We are watching tv and no one is in the studio audience. Steve Colbert is taking small sips from his good southern whiskey. John Batiste is playing soothing piano. “What do we do?” Colbert asks Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The doctor puts his palms together. We, the viewing audience have a small comfort seeing these bright- eyed men in suits, talking calmly to each other with bits of laughter. The sound of no one clapping doesn’t bother us too much.
Here we are standing in front of our cars figuring it out, Should I put it in the garage? It’s not a snowstorm, it’s a virus. Everything last week is re-considered this week. It feels that we’re getting ready for a big snow fall. It feels like waiting to go on stage. It feels like watching a long performance about a pandemic that digs its knees into real life.
The Toilet Paper shelves in Natural Grocers are so empty we could lie down and take a nap. (Like a train cot).
We wish we had gone to the library before 2:30 today when it closed. The brand new just out biography of Emily Dickinson is sitting there waiting. If we look through the windows we can almost see it. Even the drop boxes are closed.
In Nederland the snow was so silent and covered everything in feet not inches, and it was May or maybe it was April; way past the time a big snow was supposed to fall. I found an orange cone somewhere and stuck it on top of the pile of snow that was my car and shoveled for half a day so the plows could see at least the windshield and the teal color of the hood. When we visited each other, we walked through tunnels we had made, snow shovel over shoulder.
That was the winter my dog was dying and giving him prednisone was a big mistake, and the hot water stopped. The little restaurant didn’t have heat either, but they opened up anyway and if we could make it there, served us (the people of the town) hot chocolate they made on actual flames.
That was the winter before I came down in altitude.
Anyway, the virus is here and it’s not snow, or the heat of India. I don’t exactly know why I’m smiling. I don’t have a job really. My classes all cancelled, BOOM. Fast. Like orange warning cones placed everywhere.
Grass is really poking up now and the light spring rain all night. There were small robins in the hackberry tree again—the ones that come all together here, before spring. But now they’ve gone to the South of France or wherever robins like that go, and we need things for later. Looking straight ahead and going, slightly nervous, or smiling at the people, feeling we’re in this together.
Wave to our friends across the road, on the trail, or through zoom. Rest. Clean house. Write, sit. Pace. Stretch our arms over our head. Breathe in and out. And as we wash our hands again and again and again and again and again and again and again, we could sing: May all beings everywhere be at ease (whether weak or strong in high or middle or low grounds). May they be happy. May all beings live in safety, enjoy good health. May all be free from suffering, and out of harm’s way.