Amy Klinger

The Year of Living Carefully

It’s spring-tease season in Vermont. Last week, 60-degree sunshine reintroduced us to our lawn and swelled our river, rumbling with snowmelt and runoff. Today, the wood stove is cranking again, and there are snow globe flurries swirling outside my bedroom window. On this anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown, that whiplash of warmth to chill is almost too perfect a pathetic fallacy. (That literary device we learned in English class where the weather or other natural element in a scene is a metaphor for the inner emotions of our hero. You’re welcome.)

Like spring weather, the massive vaccination effort currently underway has already brought a lightening of our emotional load. Though I will be among the last wave of adults to get jabbed, my aged 80+ relatives, respiratory-challenged husband and frontline friends have all received their doses. That’s one panic scenario I can cross off my 3 a.m. wake-up greatest hits list. In normal waking hours, I’ve been daydreaming about barbecues with the neighbors, coffee and a morning bun at the local bakery, volleyball with my favorite pickup crew, and leisurely day trips to Montreal’s artsy neighborhoods. 

Then yesterday morning, I went rummaging for something in our hall closet, and looked closely at that shelf. The one I’d dedicated to those hopeful, but ultimately weak, tools to keep COVID in check should it arrive in our home. There was the cheap, always-2-degrees-off thermometer I’d hastily bought online when the local pharmacies had none. The bottle of children’s Tylenol because regular acetaminophen had sold out when ibuprofen was thought to exacerbate the virus. Supplies of isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera to make our own hand sanitizer when our supply was gone. Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc lozenges, elderberry syrup. Packs of paper masks. More than anything I’d read or watched recently about the past pandemic year, these artifacts of a mother’s attempt—my attempt—to control so many unknowns seized up my heart all over again.

Because for all the lightness and hope I’ve been collecting as the days have steadily been lengthening, there’s been so much sadness and loss that is still raw. The shocking death of a good friend who would have survived a treatable condition if he’d not been too afraid to go to the hospital in COVID’s first few months. The death by suicide of another dear friend’s son I’d known since he was a teen. My brother-in-law and cousins, robbed of their respective mother’s waning days because of contagion risks. My own helplessness as my childhood BFF went through chemo and a double mastectomy without me cracking bad jokes by her side. And I know the heartbreak for many others has been much deeper.

But here’s that sunlight again: the understanding that as much as my husband, daughter and I have metaphorically and actually been stepping all over each others’ toes these past 12 months, that forced proximity and time together has been the purest of gifts. I’m not sure my 14-year-old would agree, but she’ll enter high school next fall, and her life will have plenty of space to spool out and away from us in all the ways it is supposed to. In the meantime, cliché that it is, she and I took to the yard the other day to field grounders and pop flies, neither of us needing to be anywhere but home.

This is my unscientific theory about anniversaries. I believe they’re not just a date on the calendar; rather, we feel them in our bodies. It’s a familiar cast of light, a smell to the air that wakes our muscle memory and brings us back to a time before. Earlier today, it was the tiny green shoots of garlic in our garden that sobered my mood, recalling how I’d also written about them last year as we were just weeks into the pandemic.

Planting garlic every fall, as I do, is at its heart, an act of faith—a trust that as long as the chipmunks don’t dig them up, the shoots will emerge from the soil and reach up for the sun. Even if we have another month of hard frosts or a surprise April snowstorm, those new garlic plants will make it, eventually sprouting their scapes and then dying back before they’re ready for harvest, ready to nourish us. It’s just one more simple pleasure I don’t think I’ll easily take for granted again.

10 thoughts on “The Year of Living Carefully”

    • Thank you, Meg. I have actually learned a lot from you over the years about finding solace in our small patch of the world.

  1. Love it and love and miss you! Makes me grateful and feel the constant and consistent pit in my stomach I now call my friend Floris. She’s full of love, fear, worry, gratitude, longing, and happiness all wrapped into a tight ball I feel in the darkest hours, the surprise tap when all seems so well I’ve forgotten what the world is like, and when 16 yr old Olivia is too busy with friends to sit and tell me about her day.

    Thank you for sharing! Brought me to tears. My heart sends so much love your way. Big air hugs to you all!

    • I’m so glad it resonated with you, Stace. I love that you’ve named the knot of emotions! Like all friends, it’s great to know she’s there through it all. And damn, sometimes you need some space (especially at 3 am). Miss you tons!

  2. Thanks Amy. This resonates. I’m glad to see you are still playing with words and inviting us in to view the sandbox. I’m working on poetry, sometimes I actually make it to the keyboard, most days the words linger in my head. You’ve inspired me to get back to the keyboard… Happy Spring.

    • Sarah, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say they were inspired to write from something I put out in the world–that’s really meaningful to me. And I struggle on a daily basis to sit down at the keyboard so I know what that’s like.

      I hope you’ll share your poetry soon. We’re so close, it seems silly we haven’t connected directly yet (pandemic aside!).

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