It’s COVID-19 USA 9 April 2020.
“Mi…..ami,” Randy Newman used to sing. “The best dope in the world. And it’s free.”
Well, we’re not gonna be around long enough to find out.
I’m up til midnight Eastern time, which is 11 Perú time. Adrenalin, I guess.
We’re staying at the EB Miami. EB stands for Euro Building. It is a beautiful airport hotel with a big empty lobby. We’ve been upgraded to a suite, because I think we may be the only people here.
The guy at the desk tells us that most of the people he’s checked in lately have been from Perú. “I hear it’s crazy down there,” he says.
“We had a wonderful quarantine,” says Steve.
But it is crazy down there. Now, seeing it from afar, I feel not quite fear but definite concern. When I pick up my Embassy emails for the day—how strange it is to be one of the repatriated and not one of the uncounted—I find out that Vizcarra has extended the quarantine and border closing through April 26.
Two weeks beyond the latest extension, 4 weeks beyond the original.
How would we feel if we were still in Perú?
Well, of course we’d deal with it. We can. We had money, space, and internet.
Obviously, not everyone is that fortunate.
I’m glad I have a few Peruvian friends now—Claudia, our across the hall neighbors John & Gisela, Leo our host. I want them, I want all of Perú, to get through this safely and sanely. Once we’re home tomorrow, I’ll be checking in with all of them.
Steve marvels at the size of the hotel room. “It’s bigger than our whole apartment!” he says. I point out the hotel room costs about 5 times as much and has no kitchen.
We’re punch drunk. So we get some sleep.
Went to the Bar to Get Somethin’ to Eat
I head downstairs for breakfast. The lobby is completely empty. I ask the bartender where to get breakfast, and he says, “Right here.” He disappears, leaving me in the gorgeous silent lobby. The bar makes me feel the closest to Jack Torrance that I’ve ever felt. And I hate that movie.
The bartender emerges about 10 minutes later with a big bag to take to the room. The elevator door opens and it’s Steve. He comes back up to the room, sees what’s in the bag—a tasty frittata thing, salami and cheese and a roll, yogurt—and decides to get his own. I tell him it’s a waste of food, but he’s off. Then I eat half of the frittata, and am glad he decided to get his own.
I finish it.
A Short List that will probably get longer
Two things that jolt me throughout the day:
- I can flush toilet paper and not put it in the garbage can. Throughout South America, the pipes are narrow and old. So you don’t flush toilet paper.
- I don’t have to keep track in my head of the number of emails in my inbox. I have kept the “unopened” number in gmail to 76; I can just look at the gmail tab at the top of my browser when I’m on another tab to see if anything new has come in. (Why I haven’t opened 76 emails in my inbox is beyond me.) I realize that I must have been checking at least once every 5 minutes, probably a lot more.
My son in particular has worried about us moving through a crowded airport. So I send him this.
When airports are full, you can’t appreciate the design of them, or the elements that have been added simply to make them more aesthetically pleasing. Stopping for a coffee, I look up and see light reflecting off—something colorful.
It’s a nice distraction, because the Arrivals/Departures board is somewhat depressing.
Of course, the lack of flights has to be opposite of depressing for the earth, which I continue to believe stretches with relief, taking deep breaths, daily. For the millionth time, I wonder if we’ll forever cut back on the sheer number of planes in the air on any kind of long-term basis.
Birds have flown in to the terminal. With no one to bother them, they play on the carpet.
Our flight to Detroit is uneventful. There are maybe 10 people on it, including us. I watch Little Women and find myself welling up frequently. There is one shot, a very long shot of a handful of people around a grave. The skirt of one of the women bells out; clearly, the wearer is sagging, collapsed against a tree or someone stronger. It is a perfect expression of grief.
My sister Becky picks us up, with jelly beans and Kleenex handy. We break the distance rule and hug across the car. We need the Kleenex. We get emotional about 3 minutes in, and from then on, keep conversation light. She has to drive, and I don’t dare pull the plug that’s holding me together.
We stop at the grocery store, and half a dozen times I feel like I will collapse. This is not my store, even though it used to be. I want the greens we got in Lima, the ones I would spend hours washing in the sink. The clamshells of organic baby spinach make my eyes blur. I can’t find butter. I don’t know where the cheese is.
We get in the car and I notice that my sister hasn’t changed the clock to Daylight Savings Time. Lima is on Eastern time when it’s standard here, and doesn’t change the clocks, because they’re right by the equator and there’s no point.
My car is on Lima time. I can’t swallow over the lump in my throat.
Oh, man. I’m a mess.
In the car, Steve rips off his mask. “That’s what I’d do at the end of a day of work,” he says, referring to his days as a dentist.
My mask is off my ears, my face is free, but it’s still tied.
No way I’m ripping mine off. I’m keeping this baby for life.
I unpack, which I always do almost the second I’m in the door. I hang up the pretty things for cooler weather I wanted to wear once we got to Buenos Aires, all crumpled because there was no point in unpacking them in Lima. I take out my cruel cheap hiking shoes, and dirt comes off, dirt from my one hike on our Andes trip. I find the shot glasses that George, our intrepid rock climbing friend, made for us.
Steve makes a fire. It takes a while. We have no wood in the fireplace; why would we, when we didn’t think we’d be back until the end of April? So the wood hasn’t dried out. But he’s a great fire builder. He’s even a great fireplace builder; he built the one that we have himself, based on the big kachelofens in Germany, made of porcelain tiles to hold in the heat and warm an entire house. As I type, I’m watching the fire.
I’ve turned up the water for a bath. Our bed is made, the electric blankets in place. Family knows I’m home; I’ve promised to talk soon, but right now, I’d start sobbing uncontrollably. They get it.
Home is where our story begins. And continues.
Yesterday at oh dark early (is that how you spell that?), I realized that, after my second trip through Everyday Zen, I happened to be on the last chapter on my last day in Lima. Funny how things sync up sometime.
I will paraphrase the last story, very briefly: The Tale of Mushin. Mushin is really named Joe, but he takes a lot of Zen classes so he gets a Buddhist name, and as I told my sister Lisa, Zen names are kinda…not super beautiful. So Joe is kind of a dick, despite all the practice, which is why his wife dumps him and he has no friends. That’s ok with him, because he reads a book called “The Fast Train to Enlightenment.” He sells everything, goes to the station, and waits for the train.
Well, he hears the train in the distance, gets all excited—and it rushes right past him. And over a few pages of the story, more and more people join him on the platform, so focused on the train that they neglect their own kids, who Mushin ends up taking care of. He’s pissed at the people who get to just sit and wait for the train while he has to take care of kids. But then the work takes over, and he doesn’t have time or inclination to be pissed.
And over the years, more people come, more kids come, the kids grow up, and he doesn’t bother to wait for the train because there is so much work to be done, and what becomes important is the work. All that waiting for the magic Enlightenment Train just ceases to matter in the process of actually living.
I realized on the plane trip home yesterday, when I was too weary to concentrate even on a movie and just stared in front of me—a sort of involuntary meditation—that I had had my own Mushin experience, or the beginning of one. For years, I wondered: What’s the meaning of writing as it pertains to me? What am I meant to write? How can I reach an audience, have an impact and, yes, be lauded and loved and acclaimed for My Prodigious Gifts? Also, when will it be my turn to write? Why does everyone get to follow their dream but pobrecita me? And, ever since Steve said, it’s your turn, do what you want, well….how the fuck do I even do this?
But ever since that first day in Cusco, I have just sat down and written. Every day, I’ve never worried about purpose or audience or my readability/search engine score or any of that nonsense. I haven’t whined or tortured myself or anyone else with the Unfairness of It All.
I’ve just written.
The work is the work. I’ve made all kinds of excuses as to why I haven’t shown up for it. But in Lima, there was nothing to do but show up.
I am a witness, one of millions.
And I can write.
So. I do. And I will continue.
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* of the Day
From Lima: that we need to do our work. Whatever that is. That, if we keep our eyes open, our work will be obvious. We won’t even have to think about it. That we are all in this together, and that “we” means all of us, whoever we are.
And that, at the end of the day, we will cheer.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.