It’s Easter Sunday, but not like any previous one. Churches are closed, families are staying home, our village is isolated. The rules over personal distance are prompted by fear of the pandemic of COVID-19.
It’s been three weeks since we kept the child home from school. Four weeks since social isolation was first brought in as something we should be practicing. We’re only allowed to drive anywhere for essential reasons. We can still exercise, but close to home if possible.
After three weeks of sitting on my duff, I’m feeling like I’m taking root. So when an opportunity comes up for an essential morning drive, I grab the chance.
My son regularly collects a supply of fresh-baked bread from a baker at a nearby town, and brings it home to the village store. He needs my help today because the Easter bread delivery is too large to fit in one car. He will take his car, I take mine. Together we can do this. It’s essential travel. But I feel like a kid let out of school.
As so often when I drive, my mind composes text. I write. Often it is dealing with issues that are on my mind at that time. Thoughts and ideas stimulated by the experience of the travel.
I have been dealing with a dilemma for some months now. The details are not important here. Let’s just say that I was raised to be truthful and open, and sometimes that is not welcomed. I have choices to make in my life — do I continue with what I believe, or do I compromise and retain relationships with people I have valued? Let’s just say it is something which is taking time to think about, and needing space.
At home, there is no space. But out under the open sky, I can think. I can see perspective.
As I drive over the river, little tendrils of mist rising in the early morning sun, I think of the man who died late last night. There is nothing like death to bring one’s problems back into perspective. The man’s death was not connected to the pandemic, and I barely knew him. But his wife is a close friend and she is in pain today. His funeral will be small, by current laws. Grief is harder to resolve when circumstances prevent. What are my concerns compared to hers?
I want to go to my friend, to give her a hug, but as with the socially distanced funeral I attended three weeks ago, resolving grief is hampered by distance.
At this difficult time, deaths around the world have passed 100,000. They are digging mass graves in New York. It is so impersonal, so difficult to consider the individual stories in all this. But my friend is grieving. It awakens deep grief in all of us. Hers is one very personal story.
But this morning, I am free. Free to think. For an hour, I can drive through the forests, across the rivers, enjoy the sunshine and the sparkle of early morning light on the water. As I drive I marvel at the way the sky overhead is an eggshell blue, fading paler to the horizon, stained pale apricot by the early sun. I want to stop, to take out paints, easel and canvas to capture this light. But I am not a skilled painter. My talents lie elsewhere. And plein-air painting is not considered essential.
My dilemma comes to mind again. In all this openness and light, it seems such a small thing to be holding me back. And in a global perspective, my concerns are insignificant. Old memories flash through my mind as I drive. My aunt telling me earnestly, ‘Never forget this, my child, “to thine own self be true”.’ I did not fully understand it at the time, but I realise now that I try to live it. Later study gave me the source — Polonius, in Hamlet, offering tedious advice to his son. I realise that my own drive for honesty and openness bores people. But hey, this is me. I love the light, it is an important part of me.
We arrive at the bakery with nowhere to park. I double-park, hazard lights flashing, while my car is filled with warm, fresh bread.
Once loaded, it’s time to go. I convoy with my son, both our cars filled with bags of bread rolls and trays of hot cross buns for Easter Sunday. I am surrounded by the spicy, yeasty, warm fragrance as we begin the trip home.
We cannot go back the way we came. The route today is one-way only, due to the road closures in this crisis. We drive past the first road block without trying to go through it. We have to find another way. As with life, we cannot go back to make changes.
At the next highway exit, the road is also blocked but we are allowed through. We are going home, and we are delivering the daily bread.
Driving through the forest, I see the mist from this part of the river catching the rays of early sunlight in fingers of light between the trees. I feel touched by the beauty of it all, in all the worry of our daily lives.
It is tranquil. There are times when I feel my life is a hot mess, with daily worries, stresses and tasks not completed. I long to be able to travel again, to explore the world, but it will not be possible for a long time.
As we reach the crest of the hill, I can see the ocean. How could I ever capture that intense spread of pale orange light, splashed across the crinkled sea? The horizon still wears its thread of apricot, fading and blending into the eggshell blue.
On this drive I have pulled over at times briefly to take a fast snapshot. These photos do not do justice to the experience. As I roll down the car window, the peace floods in. I hear nothing but faint birdsong and the rustle of nearby trees in the light morning breeze. I smell the damp earth, the petrichor, from the early morning dew.
But there is no time to linger. This is an essential journey. I have to deliver the bread.
My life is challenging, but others have it far worse. I have unresolved concerns, but my mind is slowly sorting through them and I have faith that it will, as usual, present me with a solution when it is ready. I feel pain for myself, for others and for the world in general. But as I drive back into the village, the hymn plays over and over in my head.
‘When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.’
Happy Easter, everybody! Χριστός ἀνέστη!