I have been intrigued by how many quotes I have been coming across which connect Covid-19 to lungs, and trees to lungs, and lungs to grief, and trees to staying put. My love of trees has been life long. In recent years, I have enjoyed more intentional time with and among trees. This shift stems from the tremendous loss of so many wetlands and small bluffs of aspen on the prairies in recent years as farmers make way for more crop land. Some of those small bluffs of trees have very dear to me. I may not be able to change the decimation of wild areas on the prairies, but I can become a better friend to the trees I do encounter each day. For these reasons, I pay special attention to anything I read concerning trees.
My personal connection to lungs (besides the fact that I use them every moment, every breath I take), is that my mum died of lung cancer at age 65. Before she died, her greatest fear was losing her breath or choking to death, but fortunately her last breath was a peaceful one. She was a sensual woman, taking enormous pleasure in the scent of salt air when we approached the ocean after a long time away. She found the spring smell of thawing horse manure just as beautiful. Which has me thinking of her daily, as our horse pasture begins to thaw!! In either case, she breathed in deeply and rejoiced!
So, we begin with lungs. I appreciate the writing of Kate Woods, a doula from the UK active both in doula training and Doulas without Borders. She has recently survived Covid-19, and was especially vulnerable due to scarred lungs from a childhood illness with pneumonia. She recorded “Virus Musings” day by day on her Facebook page. Kate’s description of how the virus felt helped bring this home to me: “This virus is all about the lungs. I can feel the pressure, like a baby elephant sitting on my chest. Breathing itself seems to be on the ’to do’ list and the lungs don’t seem to be that fussed about organically filling. It is an effort. Whole sentences are off the table now, as the air is needed for more basic things. I communicate with hand raises, nods and few words. I can now feel the glue-like substance at the bottom of my lungs. So this is what she’s made of. Hello Ms.Corona: she’s a sticky, thick, unmoving mass which fills pockets up in the lungs that should have air in.”
Take a breath.
Kate Wood continues, “The deeper medicine which I feel arising through this personal and global experience, seems to be about grief. The lungs have long been associated with grief and Ms.Corona invites, no, demands, us to sit very still indeed (even walking across the room is like scaling a mountain) and try to breathe through the ‘pollution’ deep in the lungs.”
I take a breath before I type. Breathe in, breathe out.
It has taken me a while to recognize and acknowledge my own grief about Covid-19, all those affected, and the implications of being in isolation. My own situation, after all, is hardly grievous, especially when compared to that of so many others. (I know – it is never wise to compare.) Sometimes my grief feels like being overwhelmed – I cannot listen to one more news report, I come home from a rare outing feeling exhausted, I can talk to maybe one or two people outside my home each day. Grief slows me down. Sometimes my grief is expressed as confusion, uncertainty, awkwardness, frustration, unknowing. Sometimes it shows up when I watch something lighthearted and maybe a little cheesy on Netflix! Other times my grief is expressed in tears – when John Prine died, I was able to cry. Hearing stories about elders dying alone has also opened the floodgates. It seemed like John Prine and stories about elders were acceptable portals that gave me permission to cry.. To just sit with whatever way I am feeling.
Then I read this beautiful poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, an amazing American poet, who sends a new poem to my inbox each day.
This morning, after the blizzard,
after the sun came out,
there was a moment when the shadows
of the empty cottonwood trees
patterned the snow like tree-sized lungs—
the trunk was a bronchus,
and the branches, bronchioles
that split into twiggish alveoli.
And the tree seemed to say, Remember.
I often neglect to be grateful
for lungs, for breath—
such a simple, forgettable gift.
But in the dividing silhouette,
I saw into myself, a divine branching,
an inner tree, an invitation
to sit and breathe. Remember, it seemed
to say, and I followed the lines until
they disappeared into the light.
I am grateful for the gift of breath, and for Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s gift of reminding me so eloquently.
Nicolette Sowder, founder of Wilder Child (nature based learning), makes the connection between staying at home – our present “groundedness” – and trees, who are grounded all the time. We now know that trees can communicate sending nourishment, messages and support to other trees. We are like trees at the moment, communicating over distance, sharing love in new ways from the root of our beings. This is so true. Who do I turn to when in need of solace? Often, I turn to trees.
Kate Wood writes, “Ironically now and only now, the lungs of the world are beginning to fill, as the skies and the roads, the rivers and the seas clear of our rushing about. Somehow, the tables have entirely turned. The earth takes a nice deep breath and we’re now flapping about, gasping and flailing, like fish on the shore.”
And finally, I came across this beautiful poem written by Nadine Anne Hura, a writer of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi whakapapa based in Porirua (North Island of New Zealand). This poem has been shared widely by Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
🍃Rest now, e Papatūānuku
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.
I wish we could say we were doing it for you
as much as ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway
It’s right. It’s time.
Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
🍃 Gentle palms
Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe
This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho – a small offering
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.
We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
– and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt cinched tight at your waist
With thanks to these women – Sylvia (Frith) Bland (my mum), Kate Wood, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Nicolette Sowder, Nadine Anne Hura, Jacinda Ardern and Vera Saltzman.