The Philadelphia Orchestra, Broadcasting on television, Is playing Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6 In an otherwise empty Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall— Empty, without an audience, Because of the virus that has changed the world In weeks, days. Right behind the orchestra are the empty seats Mother, Daddy, and I held as our season tickets.
Beethoven, Daddy’s favorite. As I listen, my emotions rise, fortissimo, Chords of pain, Waves of feeling riding waves of magnificent sound Carrying a magnificent, hard-to-believe-it-ever-was past.
When I was a little girl, Daddy played a recording of Beethoven’s 6th for me, Narrating the story told As the symphony’s movements unfold.
I feel and see moving toward me in silent procession, Now crowding together in their joyous, Suffocatingly sad throng, My life’s vast gifts of miraculous memories.
One morning when I had escaped from Plattsburgh, New York, and the job I loved at the college I detested, I sat in a Montreal natural-foods restaurant and wrote a poem about my ideal day. The poem—now more than twenty-five years in the past and long misplaced—explained that I would write all morning in my city (ideally Montreal) apartment. Then at noon I would meet a man of my heart, also a writer, for a long lunch at the restaurant where I was composing my poem. The man and I would share what we had written that morning. And then we would return to our solitary writing. Perhaps the man and I would meet again in the evening—my poem didn’t explain. Whether with the man, with another friend, or alone, I would no doubt choose to spend nearly every evening at the opera, concert hall, or theater. But certainly the man and I would repeat, over and over, our mornings of solitary writing and our sharing over lunch. We would each be glad for what we, ourselves, had written and fully fascinated by the work of the other.
I love Montreal—and New York City, Paris, Rome, and other captivating cities—and a day such as my poem described continues to retain its full measure of appeal. But the years have spun on and I am living now in a large retirement community outside of Philadelphia. No one gets to my age without loss, and I have known and know intense loss. But I am also finding years full of ideal days—ideal, of course, within the frame of life as it now presents itself.
Ideal for me comes in a variety of guises. I love my courses, taken and taught, at the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I have more than once, at the end of a full day of classes, said aloud, “I loved, loved, loved today!” I likewise love my church choir and my activities in our community: billiards, a writers’ group, tap dancing and line dancing, an annual musical. Above all, I love the people with whom I share these activities. And I thrive at the nearby Franciscan Spiritual Center; the Franciscan sisters fully live their spirituality. They’re as radical as I am—but a lot better at putting their beliefs into practice by serving the world community.
Now in this time of the coronavirus, all my classes and group activities have been suspended. But I am still finding beautiful days because I still have the joy of one of God’s profound blessings in my life: my best friend in this world, my sister of the soul though not of blood. Every evening, I pack something for supper and walk over to my friend’s apartment within the community where we are living. Her apartment is larger than mine, so at her place, we are able to do our social distancing—six feet apart—and yet visit and share our reading and wrestling with its meanings; our experiences, thoughts, and emotions; laughter; the devastating news; and the pleasure of each other’s company. And each evening, my friend and I share with each other what we have written during the day.
The virus is devouring the planet For us who took meandering, Nearly at will, As the way our world spun; We who are blessed With generous measures Of strength and possibilities Wandered our neighborhoods And far beyond As means allowed And inclination prompted.
But now a trip to choir practice Is an act of courage, daring, Perhaps irresponsibility, Endangering others, Harming those I love.
How could a time, Decades, have been When for us— The blessed ones Not living, or enduring, In famine, poverty, infirmity, Subjugation, or war— Only time and budget impeded Our exploring the globe?
And now we avoid trains and planes, Restaurants and theaters, Gatherings at church and school, And touching one another.
Throughout the eons, Lives have been transformed, Darkened or destroyed; We feared Earth’s annihilation By inundation or asteroid, But our present world and ways Are trampled by a microbe Unheard of when the old year Stepped away a season ago, Ceding time and space To a new decade holding hope Now dying, But seeking resurrection.