Another day comes to a close in Spain. Friday. The end of the week. Twice I had to look at the calendar to remind myself what day it was. I’d had high hopes for what I’d accomplish this week with all this “free” time. Clean out the utensil drawer. Kickstart an exercise regime. Organize the pots and pans cupboard. Finish reading Resurrection. Start a novel. Bake cupcakes. Learn Spanish.
Every morning I wake up full of purpose and then listen to BBC World Service for the latest news about a world turned upside down, about a giant pause button that’s been pushed. It’s starting to sink in that this isn’t just about a virus – this is history in the making. Entire systems teeter on the brink of collapse. With this in mind, I don’t feel so bad that my utensil drawer is full of crumbs.
One thing that hasn’t paused is the change of seasons. In Galicia, a region of Spain that receives as much rain as Scotland, things are positively lush. Pear trees blossom. Calla lilies sprout from the pavement. Wild mint cascades from stone walls. Every morning and every evening, blackbirds sing to one another, from the boughs of orange trees to terra-cotta roof tops. Their song reminds me of the one and only poem I know off by heart, a poem I learned in junior high for a public speaking competition.
There Will Come Soft Rains
–– Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Politicians compare the fight against coronavirus to a war that must be waged. But from what I’ve read, or seen in movies or documentaries about war, I’m not so sure it’s the same thing. At least not here in Bueu (pronounced BWAY-O), at least not yet.
Yes, I had to stand in line in the rain for 10 minutes to get into a grocery store this afternoon, but once inside I perused shelves stocked with two-for-one bottles of Rioja and two sizes (measured in millimetres) of fresh asparagus. But if you spoke to someone from Bergamo, Italy, where the military were removing coffins by the truckload this week, they’d likely tell you a different story.
For years I’ve recited “There Will Come Soft Rains” in my head to remind myself that we have superimposed our world onto something much more powerful than us. To feel small, to feel insignificant, may not sound like a successful depression-busitng technique for these times, but it’s humbling. If nothing else, it’s time to tread lightly, to notice what’s been growing beneath our feet. It’s time to look across the distance between us, literally, and beyond the masks we wear.
This week I didn’t manage to do anything on my list. But guess what? No one noticed.