April 6, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’m always wary when people ask me certain questions, ones which I know are designed to elicit a stock answer so the questioner can begin his or her pitch. For instance, “Have you ever dreamed of being rich?” Or “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or “Did you know the World Trade Center Towers collapsed at free-fall acceleration rates?”

These questions always lead to awkward conversational silence, since I don’t want to get involved in a pyramid scheme, debate the meaning of “born again” or discuss conspiracy theories about 9/11. Call me close-minded, but such conversations lead me to my worst self—the one that enjoys debating these issues. As with drugs and alcohol, I must steer away from heated debate over nothing.

A variant on this conversational tack is when people start explaining life by way of quantum mechanics. The explainer, typically someone who dropped out of high school chemistry when it got confusing, uses quantum physics to explain everything from stain removal to why he’s late on the rent. Noted wise man and wise guy Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say no one understands quantum mechanics,” but Feynman never met the guy who uses quantum mysticism to explain some New Age nonsense.

There, I’ve laid down warning markers.  And now I’ll probably violate them.

Lucy, the dog many of you miss, and I went out for a long walk first thing this morning. As often happens on these walks, I find a creative spot in my mind and hunker down there. Don’t ask me why or how, but that part of my brain feels like the sun coming through the window at my grandmother’s house, warming just me as I lie on the floor playing solitaire.

This morning’s creative vision had to do with the pandemic and its effect on time, or at least my experience of time. When Hope was a physical spot, when I drove into work and did things and wrote emails and talked with people, time felt like a stream of water coming out of a garden hose. The stream varied, of course, but generally the flow was comfortable, slow enough to drink from but fast enough to fill a child’s backyard pool eventually. Coronavirus has changed that for me.

Now, each day feels like its own drop, not part of a stream but a self-contained bead. Some part of me misses the stream of events, but at my best moments I really enjoy the chance to live each day for its own sake, to taste every food I eat, listen to each sound the universe sends me, touch every person I (virtually) contact. I know from the minute I entered recovery people have suggested I slow down, live in the moment, experience life. This pandemic has given me the chance to do just that, and you can grab that chance too. Really. Try to live the rest of today as if you were not guaranteed a tomorrow.

A long time ago I was in a production of “Our Town,” one of my favorite plays of the last century. In it, the female lead has died and has one more chance to experience life before departing for eternity. Her soliloquy on her return to the grave sums this notion up well:

Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?

Please try to realize, to experience, to live the drop of water that is today.

And with a little bit of luck, you’ll be one day older tomorrow.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith