It was an early morning COVID-world walk, just me and my six-year old dog with terminal puppiness. The aim was to relieve her bodily needs and empty my log-jammed mind.
Coming from the railroad track side of 5 & 20 toward the Lake Tunnel pedestrian underpass, we were swallowed by a power greater than us.
On the railroad side it was a chilly thirty-five-degree morning with no wind. Entering the tunnel, we could feel a temperature drop and hear wind at the other end. Halfway through the shaft, wind began clawing us – drawing us toward the turbulent lake. Stepping out of the lakeside end of tunnel we were pulled by force into another world.
The wind roared violently from out of the southwest, tree limbs crumbling and sticks flying from the voice of the tempest. White claws of water reached up across the lake, slamming Long Pier with such anger it was impossible to traverse without becoming soaked. The wind pushed us from behind like an impatient father urging a dawdling child. We made it as far as the boardwalk lined with Adirondack chairs and those giant canvass sunshades. Then it was just too cold and windy to go on.
As we turned, the dog’s ears spread like a gull’s wings hovering in mid-air. The icy wind pushed us relentlessly. We pushed back. I had not dressed well for this kind of cold. I pulled the drawstring of my hoodie until only a small circle of my face was exposed. Still, I could not avert my eyes from the lake. Tungsten gray and white churning ferociously, it was just the kind of power to put human beings in our place –exceptionally small in the scheme of things.
I keep thinking how blessed we are that the current global crisis is biological and not geological or atmospheric. I know it sounds crazy to juxtapose blessed and pandemic, but consider our helplessness when swallowed by tornado, hurricane or tsunami. Volcanos and earthquakes are impervious to social distancing as are giant asteroids. Given the supreme incompetence of the current administration to mobilize a national response to this crisis, thank goodness it is not something that has devastated the earth and its abundance instead of just the economy.
I don’t mean to suggest this makes our situation any less hazardous or disturbing. Only that it feels like we have a fighting chance against a foe that can be influenced by our behavior. Social distancing is difficult and painful, and feels like “time out” when we were kids watching other kids play from our confinement. But like washing hands, it is doable.
In the face of a powerful mountain or glacier, some feel compelled to climb it – imagining they’ve overcome it. Others may wish to hike it, experiencing its power and beauty without any sense of competition. Still others enjoy it from a distance, a visual feast rather than a bodily experience. This power we are up against right now cannot be seen or felt in the moment but must be comprehended abstractly, even imaginatively. It is as much a challenge of the mind as it is a potential risk to the body. Thank you to all of those who are meeting this challenge, doing what can be done to influence the outcome. Doing what we can do together, even while apart, can be powerful.