Apparently, my family on my Dad’s side is known for the ability to cry tears of joy. But this year — this year, the year of the pandemic, the year of a person being squished like a bug, the year when so many Americans have died in the last seven months we have lost the ability to comprehend it, the year when work has become something you lose — I discovered another ability. I can cry in my sleep.
It didn’t happen all at once; at first in February I was just plain scared and confused, wondering exactly how much Spam, Velveeta, rice and beans I needed to procure to survive a pandemic. Then a sense of surreality set in. Not a word, I know, but surreal like Canticle for Leibowitz or other sci fi works I have read. Surreal as in, we live in the wealthiest country in the world and we don’t have a solution for this? We harbor some of the greatest institutions of learning and science … and some ridicule and seek to dismantle years in labs and in the field to scare, confuse and bewilder people even more, so that then they can bend the people to their will?
Then just plain old anxiety set in, so I decided my corona talent would be meditation. I have apps, I followed gurus, I downloaded music, I can now say I can meditate with some facility and that it kept the anxiety at bay so that the rest of my meager mind could spend time figuring out how not to get sick, how to help the health care workers by not ending up in a hospital bed if I could prevent it. Everything you do these days requires that extra layer of thinking: Do I have my mask, how do I navigate the unbelievers flouting the cautions? How do I get groceries, how do I go to see my new grandchild so that she is safe and I am sound? Every action these days demands more thought: How do I avoid the woman at the farmers market who is not wearing a mask and walking too close to me without causing a scene? How do you travel through highways lined with signs that indicate the sign owners follow someone who is unable to care about those we have lost?
That was when it happened — the day would go fine, but I would wake up at that most revolting time of night, 2 a.m., with tears flowing out of my eyes onto my pillow. They weren’t the result of a dream; it was more like in my sleep, the dam of self control opened its gates. My deep feelings for the professionals working in hospitals, being put at risk of disease and death, my deep appreciation for those who are doing the work that makes a hospital run … the people who support our aging population in care centers, now on the front lines of a battle where the weapons to fight it are now an embarrassing, ridiculous political toy. My ache for the world wisdom lost, all at once, by the death of so many.
So I have one more ability to add to my family’s talents, night tears, that only show up in a pandemic. I hope they help; I hope that by engaging with the agony of this time, they are washing away the mistakes that are enabling this virus to rule. In the summer, I sat on a dock, not far from our beautiful damaged city. Before dawn, the celestial visitor came, like a fairy dancing with hope just above the treeline I know so well, and have known for 50 years. So old, so new, so wise, from so far away, and then the tears of joy, my inheritance, came.
Kris Potter lives and writes in south Minneapolis.
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