Notes from the Abyss…. 3/18/20 – 3/29/20
These have been some very long, very odd days have they not? One day blending into the next in ways that make us uncomfortably aware of our “untethered-ness”. Schedules and timelines and norms of dress have all morphed into something unrecognizable. Alien and familiar at the same time. (”Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt I have worn for the past three days, but this is Zoom after all, and no one can smell me anyway or actually see that tomato soup stain and why not have a meeting at 1pm on a Saturday? And, yes, these are my grocery store pajamas, do you like them?”)
The abyss was where I put my right foot, followed by my left and then my whole being about two weeks ago. The word “abyss” conjures an unfathomably deep hole, full of the unknown and mysterious in its dimensions. I have used it to refer to the suffocating fear I and many others have been (and may still be) feeling, and to describe the sudden inky darkness of “future” that happened when I made the decision that I needed to close my busy practice of 16 years in order to support and protect the world around me.
In the last week, I and many thousands of people who provide touch for a living have taken this step into the abyss. Most voluntarily, though some needed a push.
Below are some thoughts on what I found here.
I (we) stepped into the darkness and landed in the web. What that looks like at the moment is more akin to an expanse of open ocean upon which float innumerable small boats; much like the one I’m sitting in, all bobbing, wobbling and creaking together. Many of us are not sailors.
From our boats we can all see one another, we can look back at the dense bank of fog that we moved through by ourselves. That same fog obscures the horizon on all sides. We can, however, feel the waves beneath providing support and the sunshine and the breeze and we can talk to our neighbors across an expanse of water in their little boats. We are all adrift together and time feels weird, but the sun feels good. Is there such a thing as “sailor school”?
We are all telling stories to one another. Stories of fear and of hope. Stories of resignation and resilience and re-creation. We are all suddenly knitting a new future made of ideas and convictions in our little boats. Many of us are not knitters but we all know someone who is and we are confident that they will teach us. Also, there is YouTube.
And we continue to bob up and down on the waves and time feels really quite peculiar. Without concrete ideas of “future” pinned in place by plans of vacations, weddings, graduations and other distant time-based landmarks, we are adrift in a multitude of ways. Specific temporal markers like due dates for bills, rent and taxes have come into question. Obviously existing and awful in their import, but not-quite-settled with our new unmoored way of being. The term “weekend” has lost its meaning unless we share a boat with someone who still owns one. Without my work, my blank calendar is a testament to my blank mind. To-do lists are actually lifejackets.
As we float, together but at a safe distance, adapting to this sense of being contained and not contained, we begin to “see” the web. The myriad silvery threads that bind us to one another and I can see that my story is also the story of millions of others even if the details differ a little.
We float and survey the state of our boats and the state of the boats of our neighbors and some are solid and stout and others are perhaps a bit leaky and riding dangerously low in the water and we contemplate how we came to have a solid craft beneath us and how we might assist those whose vessels and survival are not so assured.
Some of us turn our attention to those who share our particular boat and find that we now dance around each other a bit differently, sharing familiar space within alien timeframes. If we are alone in our vessel, our relationship to it has perhaps shifted slightly. We may see protection and support more clearly or we may see the holes and feel the water at our ankles more acutely. We all know where the walls are now in a way that we did not when time was behaving as it should. Walking on water is not an option for most of us and our boats seem quite petite.
We look out and away from our small boats and see the strands of connection linking us to the larger stories of culture, of money, of place, of need, of safety, of rules. We can begin to see (but maybe not yet unwind nor trace) the ways in which we have built a framework of interdependence. Our collective story of where the structural supports were thought to be, have been rewritten. Some of us are surprised and many of us are humbled. We are grateful and a little lost.
So, we float. We boat-dance with those closest to us and reach through the ether toward those furthest away. We touch oars with the folks across the way.
“Future” remains a fog-shrouded mystery. A theory. A story. A contrivance. The abyss is indeed mysterious in its dimensions, unimaginably deep and wide. Beyond its foggy borders, monsters sunbathe on sunny shores and I have a profession to return to and all things are possible. And the web connects this moment and this body and this boat to then. And the way there is through the fog.
And, the abyss, though vast, is not so dark. Here it is a mild, damp spring day. I’m in a sturdy little boat, supported by and connected to the world. And the clouds scud across a blue sky and paddling slowly, with everyone else, I begin to knit.