Covid-19 island diary: isle-solating in times of a global pandemic
In February of 2020 I returned back home to Aotearoa for a few weeks primarily to complete my work on island festivals which included writing up with an island resident and activist, John Stanfield, a chapter on Waiheke islands and its 'festivalscape'. I had arranged to stay with another island resident and artist, Nora West, with whom I had stayed in the past and whose house is right by the Oneroa Bay and its iconic beach. Little did I know that the island and this beach would become my safe harbor during the covid-19 pandemic. I started a visual documentation of my time on the island just before the lockdown started focusing mostly on the Oneroa beach where I would start and end each day, strolling up and down, reflecting on my life, the times I was living in and seeking both a break from my writing and inspiration for it. The verses of my favourite poet, David Whyte, aquired a whole new meaning during this period, greatul for the solace they brought to me during my "isle-solating" times.
Pre-lockdown - the clouds before the storm: a rainy autumn start of the day on the island today. The island library has announced it’s closing due to corona virus which means a partial self-isolation for me, where else to go but stay at home now? Luckily I have this beach to go to when I start feeling claustrophobic!
Pre-lockdown: on my last ferry trip to town yesterday before starting an “island-isolating” existence...the seascape was rewarding. On the ferry, the few passengers/commuters kept the 2 meters distance rule without much talk and used the disinfectant provided on board as they disembarked. Let’s see how this is going to unfold!
A selfie in COVID-19 times: Nora, my host on the island, and I thought it would be good to have a duo-selfie together thinking it might not be possible to stand this close for a while. This was on Sunday when we were at the Red Shed gallery taking down her “threading our way” exhibition (because who would go out to exhibitions now?) We laughed thinking it was a bit silly of us but it was rather prophetic, as of tomorrow New Zealand goes on a 4 week lockdown. So from now on we will be restricted to single-selfies...tough times ahead!
Pre-lockdown - March 25 Oneroa: Social distancing in times of corona virus: I observed this family of three at the Oneroa Beach this morning and envied them the closeness their family unit afforded them.
"One of the many traumas around the fear of contagion with the Coronavirus is the sudden fear of touch. Something absolutely necessary for human beings becomes something that brings not promise or solace or condolence but a possible closeness to illness and death. Touch is a hallmark and a necessity for us all, it is a sign of our own gifted vulnerability, and a sign of loyalty when touch is required with a close loved one - irrespective of danger – few parents will leave their child untouched in their misery, no matter the possible dangers. All the more important then, to remember through this temporary and necessary distancing that this societal contagion requires, what a privilege we have in touch; how important it is for each of us, and how much need there will be to restore our many, daily, sometimes tiny but necessary forms of reaching out as soon as we possibly can"
Pre-lockdown - March 26 Oneroa: Social distancing and COVID-19 accidental "real life installation art": this morning someone had arranged the seats at the beach so that they keep with the required 2 meter distance... a reminder to those of us who use the beach as a consolation space for these times of isolation that we need to keep our physical distance from those fellow beach walkers. I say physical because people still try to be social by greeting and chatting briefly even from a distance.
"Crisis not as trauma but an abrupt, unwanted, unlooked for but necessary change of season."
- David Whyte, CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
Lockdown Day 1: I was walking by the beach today reflecting on aloneness and physical/social distancing when I spotted this man paddling from his boat to the shore. The following comment by my most favorite poet fits in well with my thoughts.
”Walking alone, gazing into water, is not the isolation it might seem; true human aloneness deeply felt, opens up the silent conversation with a beautiful, mirrored, underlying companionship with creation, a friendship with the elements of the created world that have grown with us since the beginning of our conscious evolution and our conscious sense of time: to the sense of privilege at the heart of being here and being alive. A gift given to us and then passed almost invisibly onward, both to those with whom we walk and those previously, we might have felt, were far away. Twice blessed.”
- David Whyte
Lockdown Day 2:
“In the grand scale of things, loneliness is a privilege. Human beings may have the ability to feel aloneness as no other creature can; with a power magnified by intelligence and imagination. Animals may feel alone in an instinctual way, moving naturally and affectionately toward others of their kind, but human beings may be the only beings that can articulate, imagine or call for a specific life they feel they might be missing.”
- David Whyte, CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
Lockdown Day 3:
“Human beings do not find their essence through fulfillment or eventual arrival but by staying close to the way they like to travel, to the way they hold the conversation between the ground on which they stand and the horizon to which they go. We are in effect, always, close; always close to the ultimate secret: that we are more real in our simple wish to find a way than any destination we could reach: the step between not understanding that and understanding that, is as close as we get to happiness.
- David Whyte, ‘CLOSE’ From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
Lockdown Day 4: I am increasingly relying on this great island skyscape to keep everything into perspective...
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.”
- David Whyte, ‘The Journey’, Essentials Many Rivers Press.
Lockdown Day 5: Walking on the beach this early morning I came across this old man sitting on a boat pulled up the shore. His pensive figure against the deserted landscape added a tone of melancholy and vulnerability to it. I thought of all the people seeing through the lockdown alone, my elderly parents locked in for weeks without proper physical human interaction.
"We will all be walking through the door of our revealed vulnerability very soon under the auspices of the Coronavirus. It will be a test not only of our individual resilience, our physical fragility, and our pockets, but also our ability to help one another as intimate partners, as fellow family members, as neighbours, and in our larger communities. Though few of us will emerge unscathed or untouched, psychologically or physically or fiscally; as much from the reaction to the virus as to its direct effects, the measure of our resilience and our 'robust vulnerability' will not just be as mere individuals but as fellow, compassionate citizens of loss."
- David Whyte
Lockdown day 8: week two of lockdown started in a rather absurd way with spotting a floating watermelon... do you think the universe was trying to tell me something? A sign of more absurd things to come? This evening the watermelon was spotted on the shore scooped out by a few seagulls who had made a feast out of it.
Lockdown day 9: a million recorded covid-19 cases globe wise... a new milestone and not the last one.
“The fear of the unknown is very much with us, and yet also the courage to be ourselves, and to rise to the occasion, in spite of all that fear. Social scientist Brené Brown speaks of feelings of vulnerability as being the necessary pre-condition to courage. We all seem to have that challenge before us now, as we attempt to marshal our forces to defend against an invisible enemy that is stalking our cities and our way of life.” - Henry Seltzer
Lockdown day 10: part of the challenge of working from home during the lockdown is that you loose track of time, ending up working longer and over the weekends. So today I opted for helping my host here on the island with her gardening which primarily consisted of clearing out the driveway flowerbed from morning glory, an intensively beautiful weed that sucks the life out of any plant or tree that it takes over. I though loudly how such a beautiful and delicate looking thing could be so lethal, to which my host said that it’s just trying to get ahead in life like everything else...hmmm. Morning glory reminded me of the images of corona virus in the media, beautiful as it might look, it’s as lethal as morning glory to the organisms it attacks. How can something that has no life, just a protein wrapped up in fat and cute looking under the microscope can bring the globe into a almost a complete standstill?
Anyhow, despite the blisters from pulling out stubborn weeds, I felt a sense of accomplishment and determined not to open my laptop, I sat in the back porch to read my patiently awaiting Japanese novel:
“...of course living is merely the chaos of existence instant by instant to the point where the original chaos is restored and taking strength from uncertainty, and the fear that chaos brings to re-create existence instant by instant... There isn’t any fear in existence itself, or any uncertainty, but living creates it”.
Such is life in times of lockdown...
Lockdown day 11: REMEMBER
the way mere mortals are overwhelmed by circumstance, how great reputations dissolve with infirmity and how you, in particular, stand a hairsbreadth from losing everyone you hold dear. Recall the way you are all possibilities you can see and how you live best as an appreciator of horizons whether you reach them or not. Admit that once you have got up from your chair and opened the door, once you have walked out into the clear air toward that edge and taken the path up high beyond the ordinary you have become the privileged and the pilgrim, the one who will tell the story and the one, coming back from the mountain who helped to make it. - DAVID WHYTE: ESSENTIALS Many Rivers Press
Lockdown day 12: HIDING in times of a pandemic...
“...is a way of staying alive.
HIDING is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light....
HIDING is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear.
HIDING is underestimated.
We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care...
HIDING is a bid for independence, from others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves, from an oppressive and mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed.
HIDING is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control.
HIDING leaves life to itself, to become more of itself.
HIDING is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.”
- David Whyte, HIDING in Essentials Many Rivers Press
Lockdown day 13: a playful granddad/granddaughter Oneroa beach scene...
“At present, I have many older or otherwise vulnerable friends or neighbours, who stand very clearly in my mind's eye, and who stand themselves in some trepidation of the present wave of contagion. Their vulnerability reminds me of how precious they are in my life and the lives of their own loved ones; how we take for granted any lives that are here only as temporary gifts, no matter what age they reach. It is a also a reminder to look out not only for those very same friends and neighbours; but for those we might not have quite noticed, who live quiet lives between the cracks of everyday community and friendship. We are all about to live through a period where all our vulnerabilities are magnified, healthy or not, rich or poor, a time where we will each need the generosity and attention of others to help us in our difficult travels through this crucial passage.”
- David Whyte
Lockdown day 14: two weeks in, two weeks to go for this dog dragged out for a beach walk....I had one of those full on days with endless skypes, zooms, emails, whatsApps, MT chats... working from home is a bottomless pit for those working on different time zones. The dog is lucky....and I must say I am lucky too despite the aforementioned bottomless pit because I have this beach to go to when the pit gets too dark...
Lockdown day 15: Selfie-time! And I put my earrings on too because who cares if nobody is going to see them!
Lockdown day 16:
Sometimes, you need the ocean light,
and colors you’ve never seen before
painted through an evening sky.
Sometimes you need your God
to be a simple invitation
not a telling word of wisdom.
- David Whyte, ‘SECOND SIGHT’ in Essentials. Many Rivers Press
Lockdown day 17:
So that I
into the waters,
seeing not only
my reflected face
but the great sky
my lonely figure
I lifted my hands
and then my eyes
and I allowed
to be astonished
by the great
calling to me
like an old,
in the sun
and the spring,
and the cloud
and the light.
in one moment
both calling to me
from where I stood,
as if I could
I had been given
and everything ever
taken from me,
as if I could be
I have ever
I could ever know,
both the way
I had come
I was still
promised to go,
like this, I with the
and the symmetry
of the sky,
caught in still waters.
Someone I have been,
I am just
about to become,
something I am
and will be forever,
the sheer generosity
of being loved
the miracle reflection
of a twice blessed life.
-David Whyte, TWICE BLESSED from THE BELL AND THE BLACKBIRD
Lockdown day 19: a stormy weather came over the island suddenly on Easter Sunday...autumn is finally making an appearance bringing the much needed water the islanders need after a long, hot and dry summer. Some change too in the monotony of my perfect beach-isolate existence.
Lockdown day 20: my new beach accessory washed out by the stormy weather after undergoing some “deep ocean” redecoration.
Today I longed for a double shot flat white at the Little Frog cafe...10 more days till that could be possible.
Lockdown day 21:
I look out
growing so wild
and faithfully beneath
why we are
part of creation
- David Whyte, THE SUN From ‘The House of Belonging’
Lockdown day 22:
What shape waits
in the seed of you
to grow and spread
against a future sky?
Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
In the open
on the waiting desk?
- David Whyte, WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN WAKING, from Essentials
Lockdown day 23: selfie-time with the iconic Oneroa selfie-penguins to mark 3 weeks done and 1 to go. I was bored today and in need for something other than doing groceries and walking at the beach to break the monotony of my isle-solate existence.
Lockdown day 24: a glimpse of my lockdown isle-solate paradise, a place of solace.
“SOLACE is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. ...Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of. ....To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others.
- David Whyte, CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
Lockdown day 25: meet Archie, the cat of the house who seems unaffected by all this corona virus business...well, perhaps he does wonder occasionally in his cat mind why there are humans 24h around the house but as long as we don’t disturb much and he is fed all is good in his cat’s world. Be like Archie...
Lockdown day 26: WE ARE HERE...
"....essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, we are made to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter: sometimes for the right work, sometimes for a gift given against all the odds: and sometimes, in the greatest and most emblematic act of human generosity, for complete and utter strangers. And in all this continual risking, the most profound courage may be found in the greatest risk and the greatest vulnerability of all, the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy in that generosity, and out of that happiness, to give more and more happiness along the way…"
-David Whyte, Adapted From ‘LONGING’ In CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
"Dedicated to all the nurses and doctors struggling to help others around the world"
Lockdown day 27: VULNERABILITY is...
“...not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse to ask for the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.”
- David Whyte, CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday
Lockdown day 28: twice lucky with finding star fish on the beach ...it reminded me a little story that I sometimes share with my communication for social change students and which I think is relevant to our corona virus times:
"Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
- Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley
Lockdown day 29: A SEEMING STILLNESS
We are all a sun-lit moment come from
a long darkness, what moves us always
comes from what is hidden, what seems
to be said so suddenly has lived
in the body for a long, long time.
Our life like a breath, then, a give
and a take, a bridge, a central movement,
between singing a separate self
and learning to be selfless.
- David Whyte, From ‘A Seeming Stillness’ in Essentials'
Lockdown day 30: marking a month in my isle-solation and counting my blessings for being on this island on this beautiful sunny day and every one of these past 30 days.
I thank you light, for the subtle way
your merest touch gives shape
to such things I could
only learn to love
through your delicate instruction,
and I thank you, this morning
most intimately and secretly
for your visible invisibility,
the way you make me look
at the face of the world
so that everything, becomes
an eye to everything else
and so that strangely,
I also see myself being seen,
so that I can be born again
in that sight, so that
I can have this one other way
along with every other way,
to know that I am here.
- David Whyte, BLESSING FOR THE LIGHT from THE BELL AND THE BLACKBIRD
Lockdown day 31: a tribute to ANZAC day in Covid-19 times by the artist who lives in a caravan down the front garden of my island host’s house. He set up his art installation last night and he and my host placed photos of their fathers in their army uniform with a candle. A reminder that in times of crisis we still need to find a way to pause and acknowledge past crises and their impact on our collective resilience.
Lockdown day 32: a moody start of the day that went on to be a gloriously sunny and warm one...alas the moody tone stayed with me all day...am I ready to come out of my isle-solation on Tuesday when category 4 of lockdown ends?
“The waveform that overwhelms a maturing human being or society from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses, their self-deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place themselves in the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self-up, to be borne off by the wave and renamed, revealed and re-ordered by the powerful flow of a world reordering before their eyes. “
-David WhyteCRISIS From CONSOLATIONS:The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Word
End of the last day on lockdown: that's it folks, done! And now what? Are we supposed to go back to that life before the virus took over our lives? Do I want to go back to that life? Nope! Heeeeelppp....
Post category 4 lockdown reality: the day before lockdown started with the beach chairs arranged in one single line and a 2 meter distance from each other, suggesting social distancing. The new arrangement of the chairs seems to tell its own story about the human need for social closeness.
Post lockdown category 3 existence: who would have thought the impact an almond flat white take away would have on my happiness! After a month detoxing from strong kiwi barista style coffee, my whole body vibrated with longing and anticipation at the sight of the Double Shot open sign on Ocean View Drive and then ooooh....utter satisfaction and bliss at the first sip from my paper cup, enhanced with the flavor of ginger snap cookies...I know, I keep my standards high, unlike those barbarians who rushed to KFC.
Above all, the way afterwards,
you thought you had left the island
but hadn’t, the way you knew
you had gone somewhere
into the shimmering light
and come out again on the tide
as you knew you had to,
as someone who would return
and live in the world again,
someone granted just a glimpse,
someone half a shade braver,
a standing silhouette in the stern,
holding the rail,
riding the long waves back,
ready for the exile we call a home.
-David WhyteFrom LEAVING THE ISLAND in THE BELL AND THE BLACKBIRD