What I don’t know these days is a lot. Actually, I’ve never known all that much, but when I was younger, I didn’t know that. Nowadays, I get that ignorance is the unavoidable side effect of being a mere mortal like me, especially when the Universe keeps moving my cheese.
The good news is that I find a curious mind is the antidote to nearly anything that ails me. Curiosity might kill a cat, but for me it’s medicine. Who can be bored or sad—or entirely ignorant—for long when there’s so much to discover? Even a grain of sand can delight if you look at it with a jeweler’s loupe (yes, I’ve done that).
As G. K. Chesterton once said: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” Cheers to that.
So you can imagine my surprise when the other morning, as I walked along the beach with a sky on fire and skimmers gliding over breaking waves, I was feeling what the Turkish call hüzün—the gloomy feeling that things are in decline and that the situation will probably get worse.
It didn’t help matters that shrouded in the morning mist was a man walking toward me. Ever so slowly we closed the gap until we had about a hundred paces between us; then he called for his dogs and turned around. I turned around too.
Probably he was observing the six feet of separation that is our new normal, or maybe he would have turned around anyway. Who knows. Any other time I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
But this morning our pivots away from one another felt symbolic of the loneliness, fear, pain, and confusion that’s been riding shotgun with Covid-19, the queen of Corona. Symbolic or not, the moment left me feeling even more hüzün.
When I got back to the path leading up to our house, I wasn’t ready to return to confinement. I wanted to stay put and let my salty tears fall into the sea like proverbial drops in a bucket.
Oh, stop being so dramatic, said a voice in my head as I stared at the horizon. Besides, someone will see you.
But as I made my way up to the dunes, another voice said, Don’t listen to that old battleaxe. It’s OK to cry. Go ahead. And so I dropped down in the sand, hidden by the tall sea oats, and let her rip.
I cried not only for the people who have succumbed to this virus, but for the victims trapped inside their homes with their abusers; for the small business owners with hopes and dreams now dashed against a destroyed economy; for the high school students who won’t get to toss their graduation caps in the air, or beam with pride as they hug their parents and their peers; for the animals stuck in shelters with limited care; for older folks at home with no visitors; for the first responders risking their lives every day; for the mentally fragile trying to keep it together.
I cried for all of us.
And then a weird thing happened. As I crossed my legs and held my head in my hands, a miniature world came into focus. What was this? I watched as a winged creature the size of a pinhead crawled up a stalk of sea oats, stopping here and there to do whatever it is that bugs do. Then he zipped back down and across the sand, veering this way and that. What was he looking for? A meal? A mate?
Next he scurried along what looked like a fine strand of flaxen hair. How strange for a human hair to be here, I thought. Gently, I lifted the strand, only to find that the more I pulled the more there was, and it was connected to other strands that seemed to form a loose web.
Eventually it hit me: These were roots, fragile lifelines holding the grasses together, which hold the dunes together, which hold the beach together. And now they were holding me together. Despite everything, the world was still offering its beauty and clues to its quirky mysteries.
As I wiped my tears away, I thought about Anne Lamott’s take on catastrophe in Almost Nothing: Notes on Hope, saying that when catastrophe strikes, we are blown over—how can we not be?—and our roots can barely stay in the shifting soil.
“But life holds on. Little by little, nature pulls us back, back to growing. This is life. We are life.”
And what a wonder that is.