A Nest, A Web, A Friendship

The pre-Romantic poet William Blake wrote “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” That quotation from the English mystic carries much wisdom and is more complex than it first appears because a nest, a web, and a friendship are, while necessary for a life of quality, also fragile and perhaps dangerous.

            In Acts 13:13 Luke tells us that in Perga John Mark leaves Paul and returns to Jerusalem. In Acts 15:38 Luke writes that Paul thought better than to have John Mark continue on with them on the missionary journey. We are not told what happened to cause Paul to send John Mark away, but we can surmise that something powerful happened. A fragile friendship is disrupted for a reason of philosophy or temperament or whatever. For instance, until Paul decreed that circumcision was not required for a gentile to join Christianity, it was a hotly debated topic and other church leaders, such as James, wanted the Law followed. The fact that 1st Century Christians were so absolute concerning circumcision may seem odd for us today, but for Peter, James, Paul and so many other members of the early church, it was of great significance.

            When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany he gained supporters and attackers. The Protestant Reformation was on, and it would change Christianity. One of Luther’s early supporters was Caspar Schwenckfeld, a 16th Century reformer. However, the friendship between Luther and Schwenckfeld collapsed over a philosophy difference, like the one between Paul and John Mark.

            Alan Olsan has written a somewhat fictional account of the relationship between Luther and Schwenckfeld. Caspar Schwenckfeld: Between Tyranny and Anarchy is an easy and informative read examining the friction over one belief: The Eucharist. The book shows the human side of Luther and how he turns against any who question his doctrines. “As liberating and far-reaching as Luther’s ideas were, he was still a man of his times”, writes Olsan. The same is true of Schwenckfeld and all leaders. And that fact must be held in check or all reformers will cause undue pain and sorrow.

            I recommend Olsan’s book because it is an interesting and honest look at the struggles inside any mass movement. The people are not glossed over, and we see them as true as possible all these years later. Perhaps Luther’s movement became a web that not only caught him but others. However, while Schwenckfeld escaped here, because of his doctrines he was forced to live a life in hiding.

Pleasuring Herself

In his fine memoir, The Old Man and the Boy, Robert Ruark recounts his grandfather’s explanation of aging: “ A man don’t start to learn until he’s about forty; and when he hits fifty, he’s learned all he’s going to learn. After that he can sort of lay back and enjoy what he’s learned, and maybe pass a little bit of it on. His appetites have thinned down, and he’s done most of his suffering, and yet he still got plenty of time to pleasure himself before he peters out entirely. That’s why I like November. November is a man past fifty who reckons he’ll live to be seventy or so, which is old enough for anybody….”         An admirer of Ruark and his two books about the older men in his life, I am reluctant to disagree with his grandfather, but I must because of Florence (not her real name).

The first time I met Florence was when my wife introduced us. She was a new member of a support group for widows in which my wife assisted. When we were introduced, Florence held her Bible close to her chest but could not hide the hollowness in her eyes. Her soft voice and softer demeanor caused me to think that she was having a most difficult time concerning her husband’s recent death. Her disheveled dress spoke of her emotional state. Over time, however, as Florence and I established our own friendship through church and our writing group, she shared much of her earlier life and of her marriage to her deceased husband, who was highly regarded in our small community.  She had lived in his shadow, known as “Lou’s wife.” (not his name) I watched as she struggled with the issues concerning a spouse’s death and admired her grit as she sold the house they had shared, donated his tools and clothes, and all the other things that must be done following a death. My wife and I were elated when she found an apartment in a modern complex of homes, restaurants, shops, and that was near her children and us. Florence settled into her life, but she did not stop growing. In fact, she bloomed.

According to the web site Grammarist, the phrase time heals all wounds may be first attributed to the Greek poet Menander, who lived around 300 B.C. and said, “Time is the healer of all necessary evils.” Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, Troilus and Criseyde, written in the 1380s contains the phrase: “As tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.” However, no matter how the sentiment is expressed, the pain of a deep wound never disappears, but time and life may lessen the sadness of past pain. And Florence, as she embraced her new surroundings to create a new, full life, contradicted  Ruark’s grandfather’s observation about being seventy.

Florence is no longer any man’s wife, pushed back into the shadows. She is known in her community through her part time work in a shop, for being encountered during her early morning walks around the complex, for her group that meets weekly to share conversation on a veranda, and her patronage to a cigar bar. Into her seventh decade, she is now herself. Yes, she is still a mother and grandmother, but she also has a life in her community that is hers, and not one that she shares with her family. Her family knows of that life’s existence, but Florence denies them entry because it is hers and not one to be shared with them.

Florence shares her new life with my wife and me, and we are happy for her. She told us not long ago how she was planning to smoke a cigar in the near future in the cigar bar and might even get a small tattoo. Not bad for a past seventy-year-old grandmother whose hands still bear the creases from work as a young girl on a North Carolina tobacco farm.

Florence, like all of us, carries certain sadness. But unlike so many folks, she took stock of where she found herself and decided for life. Much like the Phoenix, Florence rose from the ashes of her former life to smoke a cigar, to get a tattoo, to build her own nest.

Spring Petals and Crosses

Last night’s wind left dogwood blossoms covering the walkway of our back garden. When I exited the screen porch, I tread on a blanket of still-white petals from the tree next to the walkway. None of the other dogwood trees had lost their petals, and this one particular tree still had many of them left on its limbs, but for whatever reason, it had showered a spring dusting that caused me to think about death. Especially the death that Christians celebrate this time of the year.

Crucifixion most likely began with the Assyrians and Babylonians who tied their victims to a tree or post, leaving their feet to dangle. The Romans, after learning of the punishment during the Punic Wars,  began using crosses to perfect the punishment. The Roman Empire used it especially in the Holy Land, and in 4 B.C E. the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews, and the historian Josephus writes that there were mass crucifixions during the first century A.C.E.

 The victim was scourged, forced to carry the horizontal beam to the upright post, stripped, then either tied or nailed through the wrist to the cross beam before it was attached to the upright post. The victim’s name and crime was posted above his or her head. It was a slow, painful, and public death. Viewed as a shameful way of death, it was reserved for only the worst of criminals, and no Roman citizen would be executed in this manner.

Christians wear crosses, churches attach them to high steeples, and the symbol is used in a myriad of other ways that represent our belief. Yet, the crosses we use are sanitized images of what was used to kill. The Christian crosses have no representation of blood, mucus, pieces of torn flesh, urine, feces, or hair. Nothing that is evident from such a brutal death is on any part of the gold cross worn around the neck of many Christians or on the silver crosses that are present in all Christian churches. They are pristine, and I suggest that is where we delude ourselves concerning His death.

Through our art, music, architecture, jewelry, and more, we have created a false image of what His death was. While we read and say the words of it, we deny its reality by our accepted images of what His execution was. What  I am suggesting is that we can be honest of its brutality by our language of His ordeal and the images we use for it. Each of us, for instance, can discard the neat, golden cross worn around our necks and wear a small, rough, and irregular wooden one that would be more representative of the cross on which our Savior tasted death for us. I appreciate that houses of worship will not and perhaps can not remove their crosses. But we individual Christians can make a small change to remind us of His death on a tree and the brutal pain He endured.

Our Pine Forest

Almost four years ago Mary Ann my wife purchased our house on Lake Norman. I had not physically seen it, but the photographs supported her wisdom in choosing this house that would become our home. Some months later when I first drove into the driveway, I noticed  the many large longleaf pine trees in the front yard and resolved before I had parked the car that as soon as possible I would cull them. After all, forty-two of any type of tree is too many for one yard, especially trees that drop an abundance of pine needles, cones, and pose a potential danger to our house. Because the yard had been neglected by the previous owners, I first began removing the layers of pine needles on the edges of the driveway and lawn. Before that first fall, the front yard had been cleaned of the mat of needles that had taken residency under the trees, on the driveway, and even sections of the walkway. Now it was time to turn my attention to the removal of some of the looming pines. Fortunately, some decisions are changed before damage is done.

When I made inquiries about removing some of the trees, a contractor told me his price. I swallowed hard at the monies it would take to do what I wanted, but he also told me that all the trees looked healthy and that they supported each other’s root system. They, he said, hold each other in place, so he saw no danger of any falling except in a storm such as the destructive Hugo long ago. Relieved by his advice and the unspent dollars, I went about my business settling in our new house on Lake Norman. I began riding my stationary bike on a part of the driveway, picking up pine cones and small limb debris each morning after my ride. I collected bird nests blown out of a tree by powerful wind. I became accustomed to the sound made by squirrel claws as one chased another up, down, and across the thick bark of a pine. I sat in their shade of the pines and thought of Thomas Merton’s words: ““Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.” Over time I came to admire and value all the pine trees. Each day bird song of titmice, robins, mockingbirds, and others filled the air under the trees. By the arrival of our first winter here, I realized that the abundance of trees was more valuable than I had realized. One morning as I rode under the canopy I remembered my visits to a small, English village made famous by a poem.

Binsey is a small village upstream of the Thames River from Oxford, England, opposite  Port Meadow. Saint Margaret’s Church, a small Medieval church, is a short walk from the village along a quaint lane. The church has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and many people still visit St. Margaret’s which is thought to be the resting place of St. Frideswide and her maidens as she fled from her aggressive suitor Prince Algar. The adjacent ‘Treacle well’  is believed to contain healing waters. While I enjoyed many visits to the church and the great village pub, The Perch, Binsey changed my life when I was introduced to a Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem. Written in 1879 by the Jesuit priest and poet, Binsey Poplars may well be the first ecological poem. In the poem Hopkins laments the felling of a row of poplar trees that had lined the lane leading from the river to the village. Hopkins writes, “O if we but knew what we do/ When we delve or hew —/  Hack and rack the growing green!”

Riding, cleaning, resting, or working under all those pine trees is a blessing that I almost ruined because of my desire to control nature instead of living with nature. That is a lesson re-learned and worthy of all living.

Danger in the Garden-Revised

As an amateur watcher and feeder of birds, I have had my disagreements with squirrels, the rodents that many folks, unlike me, enjoy. However, after years of battle I have reached a reluctant peace with the varmints. Our bird feeders are as much “squirrel proof” as possible, and I begrudge any squirrel the seeds on the ground under the feeders. A tree rodent, in my view, the squirrels have their place in nature. Just not in my garden hogging the bird seed.

But last evening in the back garden was special, and not just because it was one of those early spring ones when budding life emerged from every shoot, limb, and blade. The dogwoods in our back garden offered early buds that would soon be white petals, and Carolina chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, and titmice fed at the three feeders while the rufous-sided towhee shared ground morsels with the brown thrashers and a lone, grey squirrel. The returning pair of chickadees had already established a nest in their bird box fastened to the far dogwood, and we had seen the thrashers bringing nesting material to the large azalea beside the back gate. The camellia in the berm had been taken by a pair of cardinals for season residency; and we sat on our screen porch enjoying the end of a grand spring day watching the fading sunlight rest on the far shore and the animals eating from the three feeders.

Then every bird was gone. An uncomfortable silence descended on the garden, covering it like a shroud. Every bird had flown to a safe limb or rushed into one of the two azaleas for refuge. The squirrel hopped to the dogwood truck, alert with its head erect, but near the ground and observant-poised like a statue. Following the stare of the squirrel, I saw the invader. The resident Cooper’s hawk had lit in a dogwood in the berm, about thirty feet from the back feeder, bird bath, and poised squirrel. Not even the blue jays, who will attack a snake, stayed to battle with this intruder.

We watched the hawk, one who is a frequent visitor because of the bird feeders. It was a beautiful animal to us, but the birds had fled because their view of the hawk was different from ours. They saw death while we saw primeval beauty. We watched the squirrel, almost frozen to the tree trunk with its head erect, watching the cooper’s hawk across the fence. We witnessed a scene of nature’s way as the hawk glided to the top fence rail within a few feet of the squirrel who then wisely bounded into the thick foliage of the azalea. The hawk bounded to the ground and began hopping in the bird awkward walk toward the thick bush as if to peer inside it for a meal. It was then that the squirrel came out of the azalea and took a stance next to the dogwood.

If you watch nature enough, even in a small back garden like ours, you will soon enough see death. It may come from a predator, an accidental falling from a nest, or any other result that I have come to realize is “Nature’s beautiful way.” We sat frozen in the safety of our screen porch as the squirrel faced the attacker. Then, as if scripted, the squirrel lept at the cooper’s hawk, who made one hop backward. The squirrel lunged again, and the death threat turned and flew away to other hunting grounds.

All the grey squirrels that frequent our back garden look alike, so the brave heart one will remain anonymous. However, since witnessing such an act—whether foolish or brave—I have become more tolerant of them. While I still have some issues with their antics, even I cannot deny the act of that lone, grey squirrel against the Cooper’s hawk.  

In nature, death happens so that life may continue. Even a dead limb of one of our longleaf pine trees provides food and shelter for all kinds of creatures. In nature death is part of life. But many humans seem unable to come to any type of accord with death. That, in itself, is a form of early death because a fear or denial of the way of all living things, to paraphrase King David, is death at an early age. One should always strive to see things as they are, even if it means acknowledging having underestimated the spirit of squirrels.

Holding Onto

We all hold onto a variety of parts of our lives: A favorite mug; a cherished memory; a position or job; a life plan; family; friends; or even our self-images. We hold, even grasp, what we see as worthy parts of our lives. Thus, April Stace writes a memoir of all that she holds or held dear as true in her life.

In late 2015 she moved to New York City to become a minister on the senior staff of the Riverside Church, one of the largest and oldest churches in Manhattan. Thinking of her new position at such a religious institution as validation for her chosen life, she brings her husband and young child to NYC, prepared to demonstrate to all that her life is one big success. The vision she had held onto of herself and her life, however, would soon wither under the weight of her true spirit. Early on in her new life and job, she admitted to herself that she was, and always had been, a lesbian.

White Knuckle Love, A Memoir of Holding records the first year of Stace’s life without a husband, job at the historic church, and the other life rudders that had, until her acceptance of herself, steered her life’s course.  Sleeping on the living room sofa in her ex-husband’s apartment, she flounders before becoming a chaplain intern at St. Luke’s Hospital, a refuge for the ill indigents of NYC. However, after her year as an intern, the woman who holds a PhD in Religion writes, “Spending time with the sick and dying has not been a fresh, new bandage on a damaged life. It has been more like the tearing off of old and rotten bandages that have been holding together infected parts of my spirit for years.” Placed in the context of her year of discovery, the quoted words are not as rough and raw as they at first read, but like all of her memoir,  Stace’s words tell of her honest examination of all that her patients and she hold onto. She discovers in the “untamed moments” in St. Luke’s that while “The hospital is a place where people are defined by their physical problems, … by sitting next to people in their beds, I help them remember that they are human beings, not health problems to be solved and discharged.” And as she writes, she discovers that her spirit and identity are not a problem, but a truth about her life.

Stace has written a moving and powerful memoir. The rawness of her words carry truth. When she recounts being told one night that a young woman is asking for a priest and could she come to the ER because Isabella, the young mother’s, baby boy had died shortly after birth. Going into the curtained-off part of the ER, Stace meets a young mother who says, “I just wanted someone.” The baby, who had been named Aiden, lies in a small, plastic box at the foot of the bed. Stace holds the baby, who is still warm, and gives him to his mother. Stace describes that moment as “A momentary breath of life, barely begun before it ends.” Alone because Aiden’s father could not bear the pain of his death and left the hospital, Isabella asks Stace to baptize Aiden. With the help of three nurses, Stace writes, “I hold baby Aiden against my body with my left arm as I sprinkle water on his tiny head with the fingers of my right hand. His head, still warm, glistens with water made holy by our gathering. The only community this young human had ever know, a community of people who worked the night shift in a New York City emergency room, has gathered to affirm his place in our lives.” In such moments as this, and more, Stace writes, “I am re-learning what it means to have faith.” (Stace italics)

Read this memoir and perhaps re-learn having faith, which will always benefit any of us. And in your year journey with Stace, meet many people. Some, like Jack, who belonged to AA, will teach you how to “white-knuckle” life along with him and so many others.

Miss Fancy

Today is the first day in fourteen years that life will not be shared with Miss Fancy, the all-white, blue-eyed cat that my wife rescued from an abusive neighbor in the Shenandoah Valley. Yesterday afternoon after a thorough diagnosis of lungs filled with fluid and failing kidneys,  she was euthanized.

When we lived on that country road in the Valley, we would see her walking a fence line across the street from the house in which her cruel owner lived. She was hunting for food because the only thing he provided was the chained dog’s food. She was easy to see during our  travels on the road because she was pure white. We watched her survive as she produced her first litter, and then years later when my wife found her near our woods suffering from an open tear in her side, she came to live with us. With care and treatment the tear healed, and the abused cat became an indoor one and she never had to eat dog food again. I am not sure how she came to be named Miss Fancy, but I suspect that it was she, in her regal manner that choose it. No matter, she fit in with the other two adopted cats, three hounds, and two of her first litter.

Miss Fancy claimed my wife as her owner. Her indifference to me was not offensive, it was just that she knew the person who had rescued her from a painful life of abuse, constant litters, and danger of injury. Miss Fancy knew of my admiration for her survival skills, but unless she needed her food bowl filled, she had little use for me.

She was a part of our daily life, and she provided us pleasure as we would watch her play with a loose coaster, piece of ribbon, or any object that could be rolled, pushed under a door, or played with in any manner. She was our most kitten-like adult cat. But she expressed no interest in running out an exterior door accidentally left open. It was if she were saying, “I’ve been outside, it’s not as grand as you think.” She enjoyed sleeping on heating vents and warm cable boxes for the televisions. In order to join my wife in watching television, she would stretch out on the sofa behind her head, getting and giving warmth or curl into a white ball on her lap.

Miss Fancy was meticulous in her manner and hygiene. Without a doubt, she was the cleanest cat we had. She kept her white fur spotless as if to contrast more with her Carolina blue eyes.  Her love of all types of lettuce and other foods  never caused her to grow large and until three days ago she was healthfully present in our lives.

We referred to the cat food bowl in our bedroom as “Miss Fancy’s bowl”. The same for the litter box in the closet.  So this morning when I passed the bowl, I instinctively filled it, forgetting for a brief moment that Miss Fancy would not stand next to it and cry at its emptiness. But no matter, we shared years as she gently fussed for more food, and the other four cats must be cared for. Yet that little, blue bowl will always be Miss Fancy’s.

Sick and Tired of One More Death

To die by gunshot is horrible. To have your life ended by a deputy U.S. Marshall’s shot on your 32nd birthday is even worse. But neither of these is as bad as your death leaving four children without a father, who is you. At a Citgo station in Charlotte this week, a young black man, Frankie Jennings, is shot and killed. Ms. Lucille Puckett, whose son died by gun violence five years ago, said at the vigil for Jennings that his family deserves justice. A leader with the Charlotte NAACP, Ms. Puckett also said, “We are sick and tired of our Black and brown people killed in the streets at the hands of those that took a vow to serve and protect us.”

Like Ms. Puckett and so many other citizens, I am sick of death in our streets, in our stores,  in our schools, and more. As the investigation unfolds, I hope that justice will be served- for the Jennings family, the deputy who killed Jennings, and for the public. A just outcome is demanded and called for in the death of any human being.

Just as is Ms. Puckett, I am sick and tired.  I am sick and tired of felons with outstanding warrants roaming our streets, our stores, our public spaces with impunity, all the while carrying their guns. I am sick and tired that another 32-year-old male, with two warrants for possession of a fire arm by a felon, freely walks into a gas station as if he has the same privileges of all law-abiding citizens. I am sick and tired of a young man with a warrant for discharging a firearm within Charlotte city limits walking freely in the midst of law-abiding citizens. Like Ms. Puckett, I too am sick and tired that someone with six traffic warrants likely drove a car to the Citgo station where he was shot and killed. I am sick of these and more warrants collected by a  mere 32-year-old male. I am sick of his death. I am tired of his violence and the violence of so many more young men. I am sick and tired of the violence in such a young life that contributed to the death of Jennings, if it did not directly lead to his shooting by a deputy U.S. Marshall.

However, as I read accounts of young Jennings’ death by deputy, I don’t read any NAACP leaders, family members, or other quoted people asking what responsibility for his own untimely death Jennings bears. A gun was recovered at the scene and that begs the question was Jennings carrying the weapon when he was shot. Its presence asks if Jennings did brandish the gun causing the deputy to feel threatened and fire his weapon. It was Frankie Jennings who committed enough felonies to justify the U.S. Marshall Service to look for him and attempt to arrest him.

Sick and tired of cruel death that is often seemingly motivated by racism, such as in the case of a man dying on a street corner because a policeman, sworn to defend and protect, knelt on the man’s neck for over eight minutes. Sick and tired of no-knock warrants that allow our defenders and protectors to burst into someone’s home in the middle of the night. Sick and tired of these deaths and more.

Jennings’ sister said that her brother was “human like all of us” and that “We all bleed the same blood, red.” She also said that her brother’s life should not have been ended by law enforcement. I agree with all that she said, but I also think his life need not have been defined by law enforcement, a life short lived and violently lost.

Renewal

Today is the first day of spring and the March equinox, which occurred at 5:37 A.M EDT, is marked. I noted the sun’s position over our house roof as I rode the stationary bike which I had recently moved from the screen porch to the front, on a corner of the driveway. The changing of the bike is a seasonal one that places it on the porch for the winter cold but outside for all the other days. Thus, each March when I begin riding in the front of our yard, I anticipate a renewal with neighbors and other walkers.

The spring equinox occurs when the earth tilts so that the sun crosses the equator, and the northern hemisphere shifts closer to the sun, and we begin to experience spring followed by summer.  This day of equal light and dark is almost magical, and I thought of the Greek myth of  Persephone, and her journey from the underworld that brought the earth its renewal each spring.

The spring renewal under the forty pine trees in our front yard is spectacular, and for my new rides here, the life of rebirth is awe inspiring. I marvel watching all the life under our pines—the male birds staking territory like settlers on the prairie, the emergence of fresh leaves on every plant like splashes of paint, and the innumerable green shoots bursting forth like rockets escaping gravity. But I am most eager to re-acquaint myself with neighbors who I have not had a meaningful conversation with since last fall.

            Over the past two weeks, I have shared in good renewal chats with Ethel; Martha, Rich and their poodle-doodle Buddy; and exchanged a “Good morning” with others. Some neighbors, like Ken, do not count because he had often visited with me on the screen porch—even in the coldest mornings.  But one pair I have not renewed with is Max and her standard, cream-colored Pomeranian Puccini, nicknamed Puci. He generously carried the nickname as well as his formal one.

            Max and Puci live near the end of our dead-end street, and for the three and a half years I have ridden the stationary bike in our front yard, I have always known they were coming up our road because I would hear him barking at each vehicle as it passed. His short, sharp bark at a passing vehicle was a signal for me to begin watching for them on the ox-bend of our road. Sure enough,  I would soon see him walking with his mistress along the edge of the road. He would stop and inspect odors only he or other dogs could detect, study other objects of interest, and then royally continue on to the intersection near our house that marked his turn-around. When Max saw me riding the stationary , she would say, “Puci, let’s say hello to Roger,” before walking over to chat. He would greet me with one of his barks, allow me to touch him if he were in the mood, and after being polite long enough so as not to embarrass his mistress, he would turn to face the direction of their home. It was his announcement that they had given me enough of their morning, and it was time to go. Then off to home, his sharp barks and noble carriage marking his journey to whatever awaited him at home.

            The spring equinox announces change. The scene that I rode in last fall is still like that where I  ride now: The forty pine trees, the road, my shop building, the vast sky, all of it is the same as last fall. Yet, over the winter months, change did occur and, while some of it is expected, some of it, like death, came unannounced, bringing its companion grief. Then the sadness.

            Puccini, the grand little fellow, died from cancer. No longer will his short, sharp bark herald his coming like the whistle of an upstream steamboat. No longer will his well-groomed, cream form move gracefully along the long bend of our road. No longer will he wait patiently and regally as two humans chat away precious minutes of his morning walk. During the cold of winter he, as King David wrote, “Went the way of all living things.”

 Puccini, the cream-colored, standard Pomeranian, was just a dog, but what a fine dog he was.  And because we embrace that, we will be renewed when we celebrate an early-morning bark signaling that a dog comes round the bend of Isle of Pines Road.

Ritual

The word ritual is etymologically associated with a religious service and how the service is conducted, so it is a word normally used in conjunction with institutions.  However, many individuals have developed rituals, daily or seasonal, in their personal lives. For instance, one of my favorite rituals is the one of changing-out summer and winter clothes in my closet. Over the years of my seasonal ritual I have enjoyed this act as a mark between the seasons of cold and warm weather; of the occasional surprise when I would switch-out a particular item of clothing, such as a sports coat or sweater, that I had forgotten; or just the simple pleasure derived from moving my clothes of one season from the back to the front of my closet.

But no matter how hard we try to insulate ourselves and control everything of our lives, we have yet to control the seasons. Although the advent of modern HVAC systems helps relieve the heat or cold of seasons, they are still controlled by the changes of seasons; the presence of allergy pills has yet to stop the affects of pollen; and seasonal storms still have wreak havoc on our infrastructure and travel. Yet, while the simple act of changing-out clothes in my closet recognizes and acknowledges  the change of the seasons it also grants me some semblance of control because I can determine when and what I wear from last year’s season. For instance, is today, March 19, 2021, the day for my Hawaiian shirts to be moved to the front of my closet and the sweaters put to the back.  I’m in control here and am willing to be cold or even look silly if I made a mistake by changing too soon.

So this morning I decided was a good time to change-out my clothes. Being retired, I no longer wear suits and sports coats, so all I have to move is my motley collection of sweaters, Hawaiian shirts, and summer pullovers. Because they are worn only to church and other special occasions, the dress shirts and pants remain where they are. But when I went into the closet, I saw that all the clothes were as I wished them to be for the warmer season. At first I was puzzled, then I realized that I had not changed-out my closet in the fall of 2020.

Last fall was the half-way point of the pandemic: Most of us continued to wear our masks, struggled with remote learning in schools, and remained social distanced along with so many more measures aimed to combat the plague that had killed over 500,000 Americans. It shut me in like so many others, and I had no reason to plan my “wardrobe” for the fall. However, since I am retired, the choice of going nowhere was not a pleasant one, but not stressful like it was for so many others. So I found my warm clothes where they were this time last March when we had begun our efforts to conquer the COVID-19.

Leaving the closet as I had found it, I thought of the sonnet Ozymandias inwhich the  Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley writes about a statue of a once grand King, Ozymandias, who is now remembered by only “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in the desert. Shelley writes “Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away ” to remind us that nature and time will eventually cover our lives like the desert sands cover the reign of a once mighty king.

The virus caused my seasonal ritual of clothes organizing not to be necessary. That is a small thing that I, without thinking, managed. However, will we, a year into the COVID-19, learn to manage it well, or will we be covered by the sands of it?