In a few days some things will open up here in France. After two months of confinement, we will be able to go out without our attestation or permission slip. We can roam within 100 km instead of inside one. My child might even have school! So why is this time feeling so much harder than the previous two months? We followed orders, we washed our hands, we hunkered down and counted the days. But now the future is here, we can begin to imagine taking action and I am exhausted.
This morning I awoke in a sweat, summer is here, Toulouse is getting hot. It’s time to pack up the duvet, to buy some shorts that fit my growing son and everyone wants to know what we will do and when. What is our plan? Did you hear the universe chuckling? The full moon is in Scorpio and OSF has cancelled its entire season. Auguries and auspices and chicken guts and forecasting and talking to highly educated data analysts and they don’t know, nobody knows. I Zoom with cheerful Oregonians who see little change, I get frantic texts from people who feel the world is ending, and I just don’t know.
And so I think back on my own hardest times, the year of my son’s birth. I finally had the child so desired after 3.5 years of infertility, I almost bled to death during a dramatic birth while my then husband was on the phone with one of his several girlfriends, I discovered said girlfriends and the marriage was over. For several months I stayed at different people’s houses, taught and pumped during the day, cried at night and tried to get my child to sleep, ate alone in the dark in an old truck, my only vehicle, worked full-time in a hostile environment that I couldn’t fix and wasted away to a very thin, very sad, very confused person. It’s a complicated story and it was awful in so many ways. The New York Times is running a series on single mothers by choice and tomorrow is Mother’s Day here. Be a mensch and reach out to any single mother you know, confinement has concentrated the soloness of solo parenting. If seeing their struggle makes you uncomfortable, DO NOT say « I could never do that » and DO NOT say « at least you have a child. ». Please. Please just say, « you are so strong, you are so creative in this hard season, you have worked so hard at this and I see it. You are a great mother ». Thank you.
So during that year of incomprehensible struggle I came up with a mantra. I went to the YMCA to spin classes because it was the only place that had baby care and I could go sweat on a bike and scream for a short hour while the frigid night closed in on Western New York. I repeated to myself over and over, « what is is ». There you go. My academic career was probably ending, my marriage (and the family I had with two stepsons) was ending, my beautiful house was not where my son would grow up and this was all simply true. But I didn’t want it to be. But it was. So I went to the fancy lawyer chanting my mantra, I asked sweet friends for help and a place to stay, I went to job interviews. What is is.
So now times once again seem very daunting. Many things are easier, I have a job, my child cooks his own dinner often, I feel healthy, tomorrow I will FaceTime with my fantastic stepson and his lovely wife. We are in a peaceful apartment near the Canal du Midi. And yet, and yet, there is so much looming. I do not know what his high school years will be like, I do not like to think of actually breathing and teaching in a classroom full of bodies, our town’s economy is going to be staggering and falling for years to come, and it sounds like violence and disaster are lurking for so, so many in the US. And so I need a new mantra. I can say « what is is« and for today it is lovely. Coffee, bird songs, KCRW on the radio, yoga practice, writing groups. Today has so much that I love in it. But when will we get on a plane? Where will we go? When will we have family trips again? Can my son play soccer in the fall or go rock climbing or be with friends? My instinct is that we have another year or two before we can all get close and cozy. Will we remember how to have potlucks and sit on the couch and talk with legs touching? Will we travel? Will we trust our compatriots? Will November bring, oh I don’t even know, but unrest, trouble, conflict? How can we feel safe in our world?
So dear ones, what should our mantra be? I do not like writing so many questions. I ask my students to think harder when they feel like they just want to throw questions into their essays. I thought that sitting here writing this would lead me to a good conclusion. Everything will be okay. Nope. Not buying it. Be here now. Doing that one but at 4 am with hot still air and a sameness to the impending morning, it’s just not comfort enough. I think of Shakespeare and the yoga sutras and my favorite poets and I’ve got nothing. I wish I could ask my grandmother what they thought about during the terrible post-war years. Once the crisis has abated and we have to work to rebuild whatever we lost and want back, what will we tell ourselves? It is going to take a lot of time. There will be disappointments and some things may be lost for our lifetimes. I would like a touchstone so that I can just rest in this beautiful month of May and trust that we will make the plans we need to make when we can, when borders open up, when calendars are launched, when the winds blow the right way. But it is hard, so hard, right now to trust any kind of future and to feel safe in that trust. I feel a great responsibility to do the right thing, to help out, to make safe choices and it’s just beyond my powers to know any of that right now.
So here’s my new verb mantra. I looked up the etymology and although may sounds all polite in English it actually comes from a much older word which means to have power. So I think I will try this mantra for this month. What may may. And yet we go on. And yet we continue to love. What may may. And we are still here.