Written On the Body #27, October 28, 2020 — The Uncertainty Principle

In physics, the uncertainty principle — articulated by Werner Heisenberg — states that we can know how fast something is going OR its exact location now, but NOT both at the same time. mataphorically, the uncertainty principle applies to all of life. As in surfing, we have to learn to ride with this — and, for me, knowing life is uncertain makes me feel better than firmly believing in things that, invariably, change and are beyond our control.

Now it is almost Hallowe’en — the time when, according to some, the veil between worlds is at its thinnest — hence the allure of ghosts, goblins, ghouls wearing masks (highly appropriate this year!). It is the time of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos and the Gaelic/Celtic Samhain, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter — when offerings of food and drink were left outside to appease the visiting spirits. Fall turning into winter, the days winding down to the Winter Solstice (shortest day and longest night) with the trick or treat of the light returning, little by little, and winter turning into spring. The costumes and masks all the seasons wear! In Greek mythology, Persephone has now eaten her 6 pomegranate seeds and must stay underground for the winter, her mother Demeter haunting the earth as she searches for her daughter. This is relevant to our times in terms of climate change, as well as the universal themes of death and rebirth, grief, mothers and daughters. A time of uncertainty on many levels. The most basic one being, in all times and places, Will we survive the winter? The cold, the ice, the isolation. Think of Game of Thrones, and “Winter is coming.”

There is uncertainty about COVID-19 and about the U.S. elections — which, to me, are a question of ethics, humanity, and moral compass, not only “personality and character,” as some commentators say. Uncertainty about whether we can bring more justice and equality into our world, our lives. Uncertainty about the climate and what we can do to prevent disaster (and to wake up people who do not want to see the disaster coming, both in society and for the planet if we do nothing about these issues).

I have uncertainty about my health (despite the current improvements), Roger’s health, the health and well-being of people I know and love, as well as of the world in general. Some days, it’s even hard to remember the right word for something I want to say, or know if a sneeze or a twinge is just a momentary thing or something more!

And yet there are some things we can be certain about. The love we feel for (and from) family, partners, friends. The beauty of nature: now, gold leaves against a blue sky… and in the spring, green leaves emerging. Even the cold beauty of snow. Planting bulbs for spring — hoping they survive not only the cold but also the squirrels (who see newly-planted bulbs as a personal gift). The beauty of art, music, writing , theatre and dance — and sharing these with each other, even now through zoom and other on-line sites. The kindness of strangers, like the woman waiting with me at the streetcar stop on Parliament and Gerrard, who saw the “Princess Margaret Hospital” sticker on my jacket (I had just come from an appointment, and received the sticker to show I was free of covid) and asked how I was doing. “Small beauties,” in poet Sharon Olds’ words: making a peach-blackberry pie; wearing a comfortable old sweater or a new flannel shirt whose colours and fit make it feel familiar; old photographs and their memories. Passing on things we love to people who need them now: one of my friends gave her father’s old Navy sleeping-bag (still in good condition!) to a church helping the homeless in Toronto; I sent my cousin’s daughter a coral necklace worn by my great-grandmother, a necklace I have treasured for years, when she wanted family pictures and heirlooms after her grandmother’s (my aunt’s) death this summer, at age 98.

On a happier note, it will be my son’s 40th birthday on Nov. 5, and his partner, Christina, just graduated from her Nurse-Practitioner program. We were able to see the graduation ceremony on zoom.

And to pick up a loose thread, yes the tomato plants had more flowers — but only one tiny green fruit that never ripened. I was going to use it in cooking, but I think a squirrel found it. We’ll try again next year.

So — as Jack Layton said — stay loving, hopeful, optimistic — even now. And enjoy treats and small beauties. Painting below is by Rita-Anne Piquette (1953-2017), framed by trees outside my window. And there is pie…

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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