I am aware I am “lucky” that my experience of the Covid-19 virus was not worse. I could have ended up in hospital, on a ventilator, or dead. Many others did. But personal experience is relative – not only to the experience of others, but also to one’s own previous experience. I can easily say that I had never been that ill before. At one point I struggled to tell my partner how completely helpless and reliant on him I felt – a devastating realisation. I am someone who could be called fiercely independent. This has been softening over recent years but is still apparent on an everyday basis. In the depths of this illness any sense of agency disappeared – almost everything felt like it had gone. I learned to lie and do nothing, day after day after day after day, except for minimal movements to eat a few mouthfuls, drink and get to the toilet somehow. I did not sleep much in the day – just stared out of the window. This enabled me to sleep at night – heavy, black sleep. There was not much thinking even – just the odd thought passing through now and again. One of those thoughts was that this was a rehearsal for dying – maybe it was. Another thought was that everything had somehow changed for me – but in a way I did not yet understand. As I recovered, I tried to explain this to people who asked me how I was, but didn’t know what I was explaining – just that things had changed in some fundamental way. My decision to retire from all paid work was a response to this change.
I had a waking vision during one of those strange, empty days lying in bed. There was an image of being in a city under siege – and I just followed the image where it took me. Below is a poetic rendition of that visionary experience. A friend told me that I needed to record myself reading this poem out loud. So, here it is:
What is Left?
The outer defenses have been silently breached.
The gates are open and the enemy pours through
I watch, helpless, as my fortress is sacked,
resources stripped away,
structures crumble –
then I flee to the very centre,
crawl under the floor to
the hidden foundations of my being
and lie in the dark –
The chaos above gradually fades from my awareness.
I listen to my breath coming too fast.
Then, begin to hear again the oracle voice
chanting the song of my being.
Observe carefully to see what is stirring in the hearts of others.
Do not expect to be seen.
Listen and hear what is not said in their words.
Do not expect to be heard.
Love greatly and with passion, especially the small who have no voice.
Do not expect to be loved.
Learn to hold others carefully so they can feel held.
Do not expect to be held.
Never stop trying to understand.
Do not expect to be understood.
The words emanate from the foundation stones
and my bones resonate and know them.
Everything above is founded on them.
My cheek presses into the dark earth
and from somewhere,
deeper and darker still,
comes a small, desolate cry.
Trust no one!
Slowly, I become aware that all is silent above me.
The hoards have left, taking what they wanted,
leaving it hollowed out and bare.
In time I will rebuild but it will be different,
resting now ever so lightly on these foundations –
some parts maybe floating above,
attached with gossamer threads.
I will rebuild for perishable beauty
rather than endurance.
There will be open spaces for love, playfulness and joy –
and continual loss and letting go –
but also no resistance.
And deep trust?
After the first betrayal,
what is left?
I still don’t know what is left. I don’t know how much or what I can trust at that depth – or even what deep trust means for me. I will enquire.