This is a story of how our needs are met. It’s also about an angel, but mostly about how Spirit, the Guiding Principle, the Universe, God, whatever you choose to call this incomprehensible Mystery, works invisibly to heal our pain. The solutions are not what we’d impose if we were in charge, but the quiet, almost unnoticeable outcomes work miraculously not only for ourselves but for people we never even thought involved.
I felt I was managing the pandemic pretty well. I have it easy: a cottage, a garden, a car, the internet, TV, radio, a phone with which to call a friend. How could I complain?
But one morning, after 12 or 13 weeks, I woke up exhausted—at end of my rope. I was undone by loneliness. I felt I couldn’t go another day without a hug, a hand on my shoulder, just human touch. My two daughters live nearby with their families, but they have carefully avoided coming close. Intellectually, I knew they’d withdrawn to protect me. But, unconsciously, the interpretation that pounced that morning – like a lion— was distaste. If I were loved, said the primitive brain, I would be touched, hugged, kissed. I knew it wasn’t true, but I pitched into a hole of despair.
A recent article in the New York Times confirms our need for touch. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/well/family/coronavirus-pandemic-hug-mask.html
It’s so powerful that babies left untouched, uncuddled, don’t develop properly, and surely we adults, left alone for too long, fall back into mire of “not good enough,” “unloved,” “useless,” “undesireable.” Indeed, scientists now find the stress and isolation of the pandemic has created a historic wave of mental-health problems.
Looking back, I felt I’d been infected. Was it because of the recent news— protests, and tear gas, and military troops in the streets, or was I picking up the global loneliness of billions around the world? I have no idea, but I fell into a pit of hell.
I asked my daughters if I could join their family pods, and both refused—for valid reasons, when doing so might risk my life, but it hurt. The next morning, I took the car and drove alone to a beautiful gorge to ease my despair. I walked along the high cliffs that towered over the rushing, white-water river far below, tears pouring down my cheeks. I howled at God. I pleaded and raged. I told of loneliness, despair, demanding HELP! At one point, I looked up at the white sky, an overcast, gray mask of cloud. There, right overhead, stood a patch of blue-sky angel, its wings formed wispily of white cloud and azure sky.
“Big deal,” I shouted aloud to the Holy Spirit, to my Beloved from which I felt utterly divorced. “Ok. An angel. But it doesn’t touch my heart. I reject it. You have to give me more. I want touch. I want to be loved, hugged, held.” And then in a wash of understanding I realized it wasn’t only touch. I’d lost my center, my connection to God, my spiritual anchor.
I remembered another time, years earlier, when I had fallen into a funk, and, walking along the canal in Washington DC, had prayed for a sign that all was well. “And not just some skimpy sign,” I’d prayed. “I’m not in a good space. You need to hit me over the head. Show me that everything will be all right.” Hardly had I sent out that prayer when out of the canal rose a flock of pigeons (strange birds to roost in water). The light flashing off their white wings, and the arc of their flight was so beautiful that I stopped in awe— at which moment SPLAT! I was hit with green slime, right on the top of my head. I burst out laughing. Wasn’t that what I’d just asked for? To be hit over the head?
But this time, walking along the gorge, the angel image had not lessened my loneliness. I walked on, tears pouring down my cheeks.
Later I found myself leaning against a tree, down near the water. It was a young tree, no more than two feet in diameter. Inadvertently, one arm crept round it, and then the other. In the blowing wind, I could feel its trunk swaying gently against mine, like a living, sentient being, and then I found myself kissing and nuzzling the smooth bark of the tree, and I realized it had been months since I had kissed anything—not even the back of my own hand. I held the tree, and a great quiet came over me. I stroked the bark of that healing, sentient being, breathed out —and I was back in my body again, connected again to my Higher Self, the Holy Spirit, connected spiritually to love.
Then I walked home.
You see it’s just a little story, quite meaningless, except for what happened afterwards. A few days later, one daughter asked if I could watch my 11-year-old granddaughter for the day. I jumped at the chance. Careful to keep on our masks and our distance, I drove her to the same wild gorge for a picnic by the river. I wanted to show her the beauty of this place, and I add without shame that I wanted to see my tree again.
We ate on rocks by the river. At a certain point, I asked about her two little budgies. To my surprise she burst into inconsolable tears! “They don’t love me. They won’t come close. They won’t sit on my finger, and I love them so much! I love them so much! I love them so much.”
Nothing I said would comfort her. I left her to her despair, and when she had calmed down, we walked and talked intimately. I passed a huge hollow, dying tree. “See how it leans on that other tree? That’s what we do for one another. We lean on them.” I told her about my meltdown earlier, and about hugging my tree. She glanced up at me, brow furrowed: “You mustn’t think we stay away because we don’t love you.” I didn’t say anything about her two little birds, but she’s smart. She got it.
Before we left, I found my tree.
“I’m going to hug my tree,” I said. “You go find one you like and hug it. Then listen to what it has to tell you.”
She wandered off to hunt her own tree. As we walked quietly back to the car, I asked, “Did your tree tell you something?” Then she told me what it said.
I thought how wonderous is the Holy Spirit, how much we’re cared for, and how, if I had not had my own horrible meltdown of loneliness, I would not have experienced such intimacy with my granddaughter.
I thought how strange is life, how rich, how inexorable, how miraculously entwined, and how each moment offers meaning to the next; and how my heart was bursting with joy.