Hidden Small Jewels

The Corona Virus is taking a great deal away from us. I don’t need to enumerate our collective or my personal losses. I can say, however, that the most difficult for me so far is not seeing my grandchildren. I feel their absence as a physical ache.

Yet as well as taking, the Virus is also giving, especially if we practice seeing small. In fact, I’m finding that small has been helping me in so many ways these past weeks as I increasingly narrowing my life. Admittedly, at first, as I added each new forbidden activity to my list, I was acutely aware of the losses. In-person Living Room Choir practices suspended. Dinner invitations biting the dust. Our trip to France cancelled.

But once I settled into my new “sheltered” life, I realized that focusing on loss was not at all what I needed to do. It made me more anxious. To maintain my sanity and my well-being, I would have to find the hidden jewels in this experience. I thought back to several years ago, when I took my granddaughter Amelie to her swimming lesson each Tuesday. Once the lesson was over, we’d visit a nearby parklet, where she enjoyed playing in the sand. One day as we were digging, we discovered buried jewels! Tiny trinkets began appearing in the turned-over sand—colorful acrylic gems, wee plastic flowers, dogs and cats, etc.

As soon as I remembered Amelie’s joy each time we visited the park and gathered jewels, I felt my spirits lift. I would view the time ahead of me as my Hidden Jewel Park. Each day, I would try to capture one unexpected pleasure arising from my new life. And just as Amelie and I saved her jewels in special box I bought her, I would collect my gems, creating a list of my discoveries and writing about many of them.

One of the new activities Stephen and I set in motion last week was taking a long walk each day. To be honest, Stephen had already started this practice, and now I would join him. The first day, we had the pavement to ourselves most of the time, but on the second day, many more people had decided walking was an excellent activity for this time of crisis. We passed mothers with their children, families walking dogs, people jogging, couples strolling.

Initially, I felt myself tense up each time we approached another walker. But everybody we passed honored social distancing, many making a wide swath around us by moving into the street. Seeing how people respected the need to stay apart from each other, difficult as that is, I immediately felt a bit safer.Oh, I thought, walking is good as an exercise and for getting us out of the house, but it’s also demonstrating to me that at this painful time, people are caring for one another.

Right on the heels of this relief, I realized something else was different. Every single person we encountered greeted us with either a smile or an hello—sometimes both.

I have always made it a point to greet anybody I encounter whenever I’m out walking. I feel awkward passing another person without acknowledging them. But in my experience, this isn’t true of most people. It’s not that they fail to greet me if we look directly at one another; it’s that I don’t often have the opportunity of catching their eyes. They are on their phone, or concentrating on whatever is playing through their ear buds, or looking to the side, or lost in their own thoughts. Now, however, people seemed more awake to the world and to each other. Most didn’t simply smile, but offered an enthusiastic “Hi!,” their eyes open and focused on Stephen and me.

Suddenly going out for a walk was like a multiple vitamin. It provided new scenery, exercise, reassurance, and communion. For in each sincere “Hi,” you could hear a subtext: We’re all in this together, and it feels so good to get out and see you and other people. You are all important to me.

On a Berkeley Wall

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