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.
Thank you for the reminder that gratitude for the best medication we have. We may not have everything we want. The flowers may fade, the leaves may fall, and we may fear the encroaching blistery, icy weather that will keep us captive at home. But if we have a home, and warm food to fill our bellies, we are comparatively lucky. Spring will come again. We just have to hold on until it does. I’m sending healing thoughts to your friend, the dog walker, and to all of Margie’s Cove.
Thank you for your kind comment, Stacey. Indeed, we all just have to hold on. Thank you so much for holding us all in your thoughts.
Another beautiful essay that resonates for all of us. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt insights.
Thanks so much, Charles! I hope you and yours are doing well.
That last line is so stunning in its truth: “Our mortal bodies, so unanimously beautiful in our attempts to stay.”
So wise, in the best sense of the word. Thank you, Lee.
Such a beautiful reminder of our fragility as the world continues.
Thank you so much, Marsha!
A poignant look at what it means to be mortal. Gratitude and kindness, it would seem, are the keys to our fortitude while we are here.
Thanks for the good words, Paul. Kindness is everything, and like all good things, it’s sometimes hard.
I can relate to a lot of your narrative, Lee, so beautifully written. The effort to work through our current crises, remaining thankful for what we have (that many don’t), is a form of daily exercise for our souls. The wonders of nature, forever changing and revealing its different forms, have been a revelation for many whose focus was elsewhere. Wishing you a winter that sparkles in icy glory.
Thanks, C.J. Wishing you all the best, too.
While this essay conjures regrets, it also gives hope. It’s true that adversity can foster gratitude, strength and kindness.
Not long after 9/11, I was seated in a bus in NYC as an elderly lady boarded. She struggled with boarding, so I stood up and helped her. Settling her into my seat, she looked up at me said “Y’know, mista, you’re a New York kind of guy.” That simple sentence is one of my most cherished memories. People in New York came together after 9/11 in a way I’d never seen during my many years there.
I grieve for what we’ve lost in 2020 — what we failed to appreciate until it was taken away. But I do appreciate many little things now, that I didn’t before. And I’m deeply grateful to have meaningful work with people I like and respect, a safe and comfortable place to live, and my health after six months of danger. I took these things for granted before. But never again.
Thank you for the eloquent reminder.
Thanks for this comment, Danny, and thanks, too, for sharing the post-9/11 story. It’s all about everyone helping everyone, isn’t it? I, too, hate everything this pandemic has taken from us, but maybe–just maybe–it’s given us some things, too. Take good care!
“[…] we never know what someone else is carrying with them, so we should be kind. We should always be kind.” Very true! Thanks so much for this lovely, thoughtful piece; I hope your new dog-walking friend kicks his cancer’s butt in return.
Thanks for the kind words, Michael, and for the good wishes for my dog-walking friend. Take good care.
Your last sentence, “Our mortal bodies, so unanimously beautiful in our attempts to stay,” brought tears to my eyes. For me, also, the pandemic has been a constant reminder of our fragility and of the knowledge that however dedicated our efforts to stay, in the end they will fail. The struggle to find meaning in a time when we are so constantly aware of our inevitable mortality is difficult, and I appreciate your recognition and articulation of the challenge.
Thanks so much for you comment, Tanya. It’s the failure that makes the struggle so beautiful. I hope you and yours are doing well.
I love so much about this. Margie’s Cove to Margie’s Covid. Cathy’s short answers to your pondering questions. That’s a great couple of lines at the end, too. Thanks for sharing or we never would have known. I’m glad I got to read it, ironically while wondering about the results of my Covid test.
Thanks for reading, Cathy! Best of luck with your test results. We’re living in such scary times. Take good care.
Terrific essay, Mr. Martin. “We should always be kind”, especially in these difficult times. Thank you!
Thank you very much, Chris. I hope you and yours are doing well.
Thank you for sharing this simple, profound slice of your life. As a fellow 65-er, attempting to balance and re-balance with the rise and fall of the numbers, I relate to your metaphorical eye, your sense of heart, your sense of loss.
Thanks so much for this kind comment, Ellen. The twelve-year-old boy inside me is still trying to learn how to be 65.
Same for this little girl, too. Looking forward to more posts from you.