Written On the Body, #19: April 12, 2020 – Pandemic continued

Easter and Passover — holidays usually marked by celebrations with loved ones, and this year only with the people we live with (if we do live with family or friends, not alone) and with many other friends and family on electronic screens of various kinds. We are all going through the wilderness, as in the story of Passover (the Exodus), learning to move from slavery to freedom; or we are experiencing deaths (literal and figurative) and hoping for rebirth. For those who are grieving, who have lost someone during this pandemic, I offer deep sympathy. For those who are ill, I send hope for recovery. For those with financial losses, I hope you can receive adequate support. And for all of us, let’s try to keep balanced and connected even through this time of intense uncertainty. Life is always uncertain, though we are often lulled into not being aware of this — until a crisis stops us in our tracks.

Roger and I, and our families (both in Canada and in the U.S.) are virus-free. Because of high risks due to my cancer and the weakened immunity caused by cancer, Roger and I are mainly staying home, except for occasional trips for groceries and medications. My cancer treatment is continuing, in a modified form: the oncologist has taken away one drug that is hardest on my immune system; I still have two other medications, and we are hoping this will work on the two fronts, reducing the cancer while helping my immune system. The hospital is taking many new safety precautions, and as it is only a cancer hospital, there are no actual COVID-19 patients there.

We are grateful to be in our own home, with familiar things around, and the opportunity to talk by Zoom to family and friends far away. This is not true for everyone. I also appreciate supports like yoga and relaxation on line, and the way people are working together to find solace and solutions. And of course, I feel deep appreciation for all the health-care and other frontline workers who risk their own health and well-being during this time.

After dealing with my own illness for a year, I find that suddenly I have gone from being in a personal, individual existential crisis to being part of a world-wide existential crisis. I wrote about this in a piece published online in Understorey magazine, a publication from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here is the text of that piece. ‘Til next time, be well, be safe, be calm (as calm as possible). Find something in nature to love, as the spring comes inevitably, and the flowers keep blooming.

FROM ONE TO MANY by Ellen S. Jaffe https://understoreymagazine.ca/2020/04/from-one-to-many/

Since February 2019, when I was diagnosed with a strange cancer, visible on CT, PET, and all the other alphabetized scans—but not making me outwardly ill—I have become used to staying at home, more and more. I go out for treatments at the hospital, which leave me fatigued and with a suppressed immune system, so I spend time at home, napping and having hot baths. When I have enough energy, I go out to meet friends, see a show at a museum, attend a play, read a few poems at a reading, have dinner at a restaurant with my partner. Even routine things like shopping, going to the bank, the library, the hardware store are restorative—for a while, I can feel normal in a normal, functioning world. Then fatigue, or fear, overtakes me. Sometimes, I wonder how the world can continue normally while I am ill, straying closer to the brink of death.

And then everything changes. The virus spreads like wildfire over the world: China to other parts of Asia, Europe, the US, Canada, South America, Africa. People are dying. More people are dying. Everything is cancelled, one event after another. The old “domino theory,” in a new guise. No sports, no readings, no theatre, no museums, no schools (except for online teaching). No businesses open except essentials.

Both my partner and I are in self-isolation because of the high risk from my illness  and because of our age (we both turned 75 in mid March). Already used to enjoying time at home with each other, we now sink into this new rhythm of only going out for essentials. We cuddle closer, cook meals, watch old movies. I find time to write, to clear a junk-drawer, to look through old photographs. I do my relaxation and yoga classes on Zoom, and find this actually works. Our neighbours are helpful, and we help them. My cancer treatments continue, though the hospital has greatly increased safety precautions. We call our children, our siblings, our other relatives and friends, many in the now hard-hit US. So far, everyone we call or email is well, but the anxiety is there, in ever-widening circles: our friends here who are out of work; people in shelters; people in refugee camps with tents crowded close together, no clean water or soap to wash hands. I am washing many times a day, feeling like the title character in a 1990 book on obsessive-compulsive disorder, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing by Judith L. Rapoport. But this is not a disorder; the danger is real. We listen to Justin Trudeau telling us to “Go home and stay home” and “We’ll get through this together.” Far different from being told (south of the border) that it will all be over by Easter, and get back to work.

Easter is coming, and so is Passover. Last winter, in pottery class, I made a Seder plate, not sure I would even be alive in April to use it. We did use it last year, and will again this year, as families gather at virtual Seder tables and Easter services, trying to find our way through this worldwide wilderness.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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