And Now, Hospice
Journal: Some Jumbled Thoughts in Late Life

A TGB READER STORY: Seeking Safe Passage

By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at Into the 70s

Last Saturday morning, I attended religious services at my virtual synagogue. Setting up ZOOM was easy, a personal triumph. I loved the experience of sitting down with my mug of hot coffee in front of the computer, meeting my fellow congregants seeking comfort in troubled times.

The Rabbi read a modern translation of Psalm 92 that resonated with me. I can’t remember it word for word, something like, “Plant yourself exactly where you are...for six days, you are the gardener...but on this day (the Sabbath) you are the garden.”

In the afternoon, I left the isolation of my house for a walk in the fresh air. After a lengthy cold spell and then a week of soaking rain, New England sees the sun again. Pedestrians appeared in full force to savor the first mild day of spring.

Uh oh. Loud alarm bells go off in my head.

I live in a town of 3500 residents spread over eight square miles. The density of 632 persons per square mile is low compared to the adjacent city with density of 2804. Even so, the walk in my own neighborhood unsettled me from the outset.

At least every five minutes, I looked behind to see if walkers or joggers were gaining on me. I crossed the street even before awaiting their own courteous maneuver to let me pass.

If walkers came towards me, I made a split second decision of timing and direction. If I stepped off the curb, I had to avoid vehicles heading in my direction on the same side of the road.

The constant effort to keep from crossing paths kept me hopscotching all over the place. In my mind, my fellow outdoor adventurers emitted a radioactive glow. My fresh air walk turned out to be crazy-making.

I had planned to turn into the path to Long Hill, a small state property a mile up the street, and walk through the apple orchard to the gardens at the Great House. A locked gate and signboard in large red letters blocked my route: PROPERTY CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

I returned home after a vigilant and exhausting hour that woke me up to the reality of the new order.

Walking around my yard, surrounded by woods and unbuildable wetlands, I saw that winter had done its usual damage leaving branches and twigs strewn about, boards hanging off the side of the woodshed.

Daffodils surprised me, as they always do—even the new bulbs I hadn’t managed to plant until mid-December pushed up their shoots through the wet ground. The garden shed barely survived another winter, with its peeling paint and busted up door, looking neglected but still functional.

All of it more beautiful than I ever remembered.

* * *

In my childhood, the danger would come from the sky.

The threat of nuclear war was the major national fear. You too may have experienced air raid drills: when the siren sounded, we hid under our school desks or in the halls to avoid the explosion, flying objects and radiation that might be real next time.

The principal monitored the hallways as we crouched against the lockers, our faces resting on our folded arms, our eyes shut tight like good little citizens.

Some families built bomb shelters in their backyards or basements, according to reports in Life magazine. I wanted one too to keep my mom and dad and brother safe.

Ultimately, no bombs landed on us. My parents, my school, and our President Eisenhower (term 1953-1961) protected me from harm.

As I write this in early April of 2020 - the year like no other - the coronavirus looms merciless, strong and agile. We work daily to sort out the information, coming at us from so many sources, to determine our own parameters, the parameters that keep changing, shaping - and hopefully saving - our lives and those dear to us.

Stay healthy, my good friends, safe in the place you are planted for now.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


Thank you for your post, you summed it all up for us. I tried to escape my home for a walk around a usually quiet nearby lake in our farming community only to find mobs of people there. Oh my, schools are all out and many people are out of work. It was still beautiful but I too returned home. May you be well also.

Barrie - I love your post, especially your childhood experience. I, too, was in grade school, and even at ten, I knew that putting our heads against the corridor walls wasn't going to save us. Stay safe and sound. We must grab for joy at every turn.

What a kind, quiet read. The moment I saw Barrie's name in the byline I knew it was going to be something dear & special. I could see all of it as I read, you're a wonderful writer. Thank you.

How do we find your Blog, I will Google it, just got into my 70's in May, and making some interesting finds as a stay at homer, (in the 70's was a caseworker and visited people in the 70's and younger (and older) as part of my job. All the Facetime and ZOOM's not available. We are planting and eating veggies, and I walk the dog, similar to your walk as described, social distancing. I'm still a Sandwich Gen, my Mom is in Asst. living an hour South, with visits at a patio door, and my kids still working from home, Grandkids growing up, and time to sit and write one a letter. Thanks for your insights. (saw this one today, it's a matter of perspective) Jacob Toews shared it.
For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

When you're 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet.

When you're 41, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills six million. At 52, the Korean War starts, and five million perish.

Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening.

At 64 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn’t end for many years. Four million people die in that conflict.

As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends. Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you survive all of that? A kid in 1985 didn’t think their 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above.

Perspective is an amazing art. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Let’s be smart, help each other out, and we will get through all of this. In the history of the world, there has never been a storm that lasted. This too shall pass. - Author Unknown (this too a matter of perspective, as each of us remembers the world of our own, reading American Pastoral now by Philip Roth. Thanks Barrie.

I love this post Barrie! Wish I had the pleasure of knowing you in person!
I shall revisit this posting and stay quiet with God before it!
Really soaked in your Ps.92 interpretation! I went to my Bible and my translation was quite different...both speak of being planted!
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God!
They shall bear fruit in old age
They shall be fresh and flourishing
Have a blessed day all who read!

Martha K. Backer...

Just click on the link to Barrie's blog in the byline.

"Neglected but still functional. "

That's the life of my soul right now.

To be the garden...............what a lovely soul thought! All week, weeding, and watering, heavy lifting..........then, let it be, and be. I like that very much.

And the confusions that arise when "out" are exhausting. The other day a gentleman about my age surprised me first by being way too close, and then lowering his mask to speak to me!

Still, my life is filled with beautiful moments, if I am available for them.

Thanks, Barrie

I feel like I have received a gift happening on your description of sharing your day. You spoke well re our newly recognized appreciation of our lives. We have come to value our inner lives and examine more closely the circumstances of our daily existence. Finally. We are being forced to live in the moment

A charming story! Thanks

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