The Short Season
My wife Cathy and I live in a subdivision called Margie’s Cove, where we have close friendships with a number of our neighbors. All through the spring and summer and now in a stretch of warm autumn temperatures, we’ve been able to gather on patios and in backyards, observing a social distance of course, just to stay in contact with a group we consider family. In this way, we’ve been able to replicate our city’s canceled wine and arts festival and its annual bourbon tasting. We’ve done our best, in other words, to maintain some semblance of normality during the pandemic.
But here in mid-November, coronavirus cases are surging across the country. The virus has found its way to our cove—three positives in our immediate group—and so we hunker down as we make the turn to the dark, cold days of winter. Margie’s Cove, the daughter of a neighbor jokes, has become Margie’s COVID.
“What will we do this winter?” I ask Cathy, thinking ahead to all the days when we won’t be able to be with the people we love.
“We’ll get through it.” Cathy is practical and clear-sighted. A director of risk management and corporate compliance at a small hospital, she sees the facts and deals with them. In this way, she ballasts my tendency to worry everything to death. “We can only do what we can do,” she says.
I’m learning that what we can do is give thanks for small blessings. Cathy and I are fortunate in the respect that we can work from home. At present, I’m teaching online and I look forward each week to seeing my students in their little Zoom boxes. We wave to one another at the end of class. I pause a moment to take in the sight of those hands waving, those voices calling out goodbyes, before I end the session and my students’ faces disappear from my screen. I embrace such small gestures of connection.
Each morning, I go for a long walk or run. I follow the same route that takes me on a path behind a nearby condominium community. The asphalt path runs alongside a wooded area before opening to a large pond. As the months have passed, I’ve noted the summer wildflowers, and then the goldenrod and asters, and now the leaves turning shades of red and orange and yellow that subtly change as the days go on. I take pleasure from the sound of my feet moving through the leaves that now scatter across the path. For just an instant, I’m a teenager again, walking home from school on an autumn day and not this 65-year-old man who’s hobbled from time to time with sciatica nerve pain to the point where I start to think about my body betraying me, which leads me to all sorts of dark thoughts about what used to seem so far away but now feels closer each day. This pandemic has only amplified what I’ve known all along. Eventually, we all come to our ends.
“I only walked three miles today,” I tell Cathy this morning, “and it took me as long as it usually takes me to walk four.”
“At least you were walking,” she says.
On these morning runs and walks, I often come across a kindly man—a man I don’t know—walking his two dogs. “Good morning,” I always say, and he says, “Good morning, good morning,” in a chipper tone of voice. Then he asks me how I’m doing. I tell him I’m just fine.
Today, after not seeing him for a while, I add, “Are you okay?”
He says, “I’m a little better.”
“Have you been under the weather?” I ask.
“I got a cancer diagnosis last week,” he says, “and I had my first chemo yesterday and it kicked my ass.”
I tell him I’m pulling for him and that I wish him the best. He thanks me and there’s an awkward moment—that moment when we each want to say more but don’t know that we should—before we go our separate ways.
As we do, I think about the fact that we never know what someone else is carrying with them, so we should be kind. We should always be kind. I think about this man and how the pandemic wants to teach us goodness, patience, forbearance. Here in the short season, the last leaves cling to the branches, squirrels scurry about gathering acorns and nuts for winter, and Canada geese sleep on the water, their necks curved and their bills tucked into their feathers. All living things glorious in their persistence. Our mortal bodies, so unanimously beautiful in our attempts to stay.
Copyright © 2020 Lee Martin
Lee Martin is the author of six novels, including The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and the recently released, Yours, Jean. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University.