It all started with a dandelion. Funny how small things can make a difference.
And funny too how, when I have time, I can actually realize that.
It’s not that I’m bored or have nothing to do – don’t get me wrong. During these COVID-19 times I have been working longer hours than I normally would, but time is….different, somehow. More fluid, less defined. On a day to day basis, I notice different things, I value different things, mark time by different things.
I’m a person who lives a great deal of the time in my head. My world is a world of ideas, words, and feelings. I’ve always said that surroundings don’t matter much to me; that I can live and work happily wherever I am. Not only that, I tend not to notice the sensory stuff. For example, I watch and read a lot of murder mysteries, and I’ve often thought: I hope I never witness a crime, because I wouldn’t be able to give details. At all. I’d be the worst possible witness.
Well, as it turns out, now, not so much! I’m noticing how much my surroundings do matter these days. Sounds, smells, colours, objects. They have taken on a new ability to bring comfort, somehow. They do matter. And always have. I just didn’t notice.
For example: every year in spring since I was a small child, I seek out the first dandelion of the season, and give it to my mom. She would, as moms do, take it graciously and put it in a glass of water on the kitchen table. After I moved from home I would do the same, picking the first dandelion I found, putting it on my own table, and phoning her to tell her I had done that. The first time I lived abroad, I actually mailed her a dandelion from my temporary home in Scotland. It was a small, familiar thing that eased my homesickness and somehow made the place my own. And now, since her death, I still pick the first dandelion of the season, put it in a glass on my own table, and tell her I have done so. I think she hears me. Gestures matter. They just do.
I find myself asking a lot of questions at the moment, about dandelions, and a lot more.
It appears that the way we’re living now, in a COVID-19 world, will continue for some time, and who knows what the new normal will be. It makes me wonder: I’d like to give some serious thought to the public gestures and symbols that can make all the difference in hard and isolating times.
We’re creative people in lots of ways: there have been drive-by birthday parties, windows willed with hearts, candles, and rainbows, on-line celebrations, the ringing of church bells. We’re finding new gestures, fresh symbols, of our hearts’ depths. We’re rediscovering the old ones too.
I’m wondering now about public gestures and symbols. For example, this year’s high school graduates. I’m sure there are lots of plans in the works to celebrate with them using our creativity in covid19 ways. Banners in the streets perhaps? A drive-by down Main or Second with graduates on the sidewalk, at an appropriate distance from one another, decked out in their grad finery?? Better minds than mine are at work (and this is where we who are “of a certain age” can learn so much from younger people, for whom this kind of thinking has been the reality for a long time).
At the other end of things, what about at the time of death? What public gestures and symbols can we use and develop to honour the death of people in our communities? I know individuals and families (especially when the death occurs out of the territory and there is no way to travel) can and do address this for themselves with online services/gatherings. I’ve talked with people for whom those have “worked” moderately well. By that I mean that the mourners who have joined some sort of long distance gathering online have felt that it honoured the life of the deceased, and helped with their own grieving.
Now, though, I’m wondering about the wider community. How can we, as a city, honour the death of one of our own? The familiar gestures of baking and making sandwiches for a reception, gathering in a church or hall, a handshake, a hug, for example, are truly ways of honouring the loss and can be very helpful for grieving. In my own work I notice how much it means to a family to see the people who have taken time to gather for a public service. A simple gesture like standing up as the grieving family enters the space speaks volumes about respect and honour. The community itself needs to grieve as well, because the loss of a life is a communal one.
But now? What can replace that? I’m asking for wisdom from readers.
While we’re revisiting what has worked for us (or not) in the past, this is a perfect time to explore wisdom from one another; from those for whom religious ritual is vital, to those who seek other ways of expression. From the very young, who sometimes get overlooked in the intensity of a loss, to the very old, whose experience can inform us all, if we ask. Settlers, First Nations, and what about seeking wisdom from those of our community who have different customs, those who have moved here recently from other countries for example. What can we learn from each other in this way? Could it be that we develop a “made in Whitehorse” set of symbols and rituals that includes traditions from all the folks with whom we share this land?
My takeaway from these musings is a new realization of how much we belong to one another in community, the extent to which the need for ritual, gesture, symbol is ingrained in us, and the opportunity that this crisis gives us to revisit and perhaps renew our commitment to one another.