While we all are destined to reach a point of stop-breath finality, our routes towards this summit traverse different topographies, navigate different twists of watercourse, and feel different illuminations of heat. Still, we mark similar paths: we all are, simply, in time, going to die.
I think of this truth, in one way, as belonging to a collective, being part of a unidirectional population, from which I find a, perhaps, odd comfort—communion in the blend, an elemental group, locked arms, moving together. It’s through this pooled/ individual harmony that I find hope and, from that hope, motivation to help other journeyfolk.
One of the ways that this is manifested is through my art, my writing.
Contemplating the trajectory of others and seeing myself, in communion or contrast with that course, allows me to study dimension. The practice of that study comes out, for me, through the written word. Writing doesn’t so much help me figure the world out as much as it allows me to witness it, to document gradients and impulse. And in this, I find complexity and beauty, respect, joy, shame (maybe), pride (maybe). I don’t think of my work as solving anything for anyone, the same as the lens of a telescope won’t solve anything for anyone. But, perhaps, the reader can angle the telescope body, peer through that lens, and discover subtle shadings and gloss and commentaries of their own. My art gives that to me, yes, and I hope, as well, to others.
In this time, however, the art endeavor isn’t enough.
Our word “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quaranta giorni,” which means, literally, “space of forty days”. As many of us are homebound and thinking about time in new ways, for some of us, the repetitive use of this word “quarantine” is aptly timed. “Quaranta giorni,” forty days of isolation during a time of Lenten reflection of Christ’s forty days of isolation. And despite one’s religious or non-religious convictions, it’s fair to recognize a historical parallel, even if that parallel, for you, holds no deeper, pious meaning.
We are in a time of reflection, chosen or forced.
At minimum, we are all enduring, and, in doing so, we have to consider our place in a greater collective. Right now, some of our journeyfolk are ill-positioned. With the spread of COVID-19, some of us are worried for ourselves, some (too) worried for others that may be situationally more vulnerable to the effects of this virus.
Last week, I was sitting on the couch with my wife, Emily, having a cocktail, chatting on a text-thread with nearby friends (who suddenly seemed SO far away). We talked about the grocery stores and other big-box outlets being sold out of everyday items—toilet paper, paper towels, bread, prepackaged meals, bottled water, soap, sanitizer, and so forth. We shared amongst the nine of us the invitation to whatever we had and others needed. We had a little virtual toast and moved on.
After we put our kids to bed, I thought about the chat and wondered what I could do further, if it was possible to share that same invitation to our abundance to others in the Chicago area, to those we never met.
An hour or so later I created a website for a new community organization, naming it “We Need, We Have”.
The goal: a destination for those in need to come and connect with those willing to help, whether it be to offer (for free) goods or to pickup and delivery orders from stores that the vulnerable and sick weren’t able to go out and retrieve themselves.
My thought, initially, was that people would find the site and both offer and ask for things like the ones I listed above. But it quickly grew into something more. Offers came in to donate therapy and psychological services, workspace for those who aren’t able to use places like Starbucks to connect to the internet, time with therapy dogs, resume creation and job search services, and more.
The requests have been unique, too. A couple of days ago I was contacted by someone who needed baby monitors for a senior home so nurses can talk with residents while keeping safe distance as much as possible. So far, I’ve received twelve, both used and newly purchased. I’ve been able to spread the word about WNWH on Chicago radio stations and more people, now mostly strangers, have connected and offered whatever they can. That’s been the overwhelming response: Let me know whatever you need.
One of the things that drew me in at Goddard College was the establishment of community, of the idea that we take care of each other and the world around us. I was lucky enough to be around people with many types of gifts that manifested in many types of ways. But even though we had disparate goals and routes, I always felt like we represented the larger community of journeyfolk well. We were inventors, creators, discoverers, all with our own sensitivity to the world. Goddard helped me see others through their own world sensitivities and, over these past seven days, I see how Goddard is a microcosm in many ways of our greater beingness. It’s been clearly proven to me this past week.
We are unidirectional and I’ve been touched by how many have reached out to demonstrate this and offer to, simply, help take care of one another. There’s beautiful courage in that.
We don’t know how long this will last, how many more will get sick, how many more days we’ll be instructed to isolate. But while we do so, I hope people will think of these days as a movable terminus, and recognize our kinship.
Forty days denotes an available passage of time: a beginning, a span, a finality. I’m using that to recognize our routes, our being part of the unidirectional population. And to wing my arms out, bend them at the elbow, and offer them to you as you then offer them to others.
In this big parade, I hope that my growing community group can help make the procession a little more gainful, a little softer.
Ron Estrada (@hoorayron) is a writer and photographer from Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program. He lives with his wife, two sons, and a dog named Rocco and enjoys eating garlic and listening to Tom Waits while lounging in his hammock. www.eightoneeightseven.com
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