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March 31, 2020

Notes from the Quiet: How we can Learn Patience from a Pandemic.

I leave the radio on now, all the time.

At night, Afterdark on CBC lulls me to sleep.

Sometimes, this old dial radio picks up more static than it does station chatter, but I’ve grown accustomed and attached to that.

I unplugged my digital Bluetooth speakers and TV about three weeks ago, and I don’t miss them anymore. I like that I can tell time by the voice of the disc jockey or genre of music. I know that if I’ve slept in past 10 a.m. on a weekday morning, I’ll awake to hear classical music. And if it’s a weekend, it might be a Met Opera in the morning and blues or jazz on Saturday nights.

It’s a Saturday tonight, in fact, and I am writing notes on the quiet while Bessie Smith drawls about “Honey Man Blues” in the background. 

~

We are hiking on a forgotten trail this morning, just the dogs and I. The cedars grow so densely here that the vestiges of a winter almost passed still cling to the soil.

My boots crunch into the last of the snow, leaving their sole imprints, the only sound aside from the birds chirping above me and the dogs thundering through brush beside me.

I recognize the footsteps in the defrosted soil as mine from yesterday’s hike. I’ve never seen another person on this land, even before the quiet, but I cling to that idea even more now. There is no tape on the floor here marking how to appropriately keep my distance from other humans or signs allocating the amount of bread one is allowed to buy at a time.

When I am hiking here, amongst fallen trees and new growth, to be quiet and solitary is still an idea I have chosen for myself.

~

So many of my favourite writers have mentioned the idea that when one chooses to try their hand at writing, you in turn choose the life of an observer.

The life of an observer is a bittersweet and lonely one. At dinner tables, you inevitably find yourself looking for the subtexts of conversations and noting the small details of table settings or outfits. And there is always some sense of relief when you return home to your notebook or keyboard, an audible sigh before you dive into the details of recording the small nuances of the night that seem so irrelevant to others, who are absorbed in the moment rather than watching it unfold.

I have always been prone to solitude, but today I miss sitting at a full table, alone with my thoughts, surrounded by people. The odd handshake, embrace, or arm squeeze from a familiar seem so romantic right now that I long for those moments more than I may ever have for my keyboard.

Being an observer prepared me for most of the pangs of loneliness that the quiet can bring, but I feel them much more strongly since they have become somewhat universal to us all, now outsiders and observers.

~

In the mornings, I brew Japanese genmaicha in a large glass jar. First, I add the dry tea leaves, only enough to cover the bottom of the container and then the boiling water from the kettle.

Each moment in this has become a ritual—routine. Filling the kettle from the tap, flipping a switch that glows blue once turned on. Waiting to hear the final click as the water roils around inside at a boil and the switch returns to its resting position. I pour and fill the jar, the water fogging the glass, sending the leaves spiralling around in chaos, in all directions.

But I sit and wait patiently, watching as the leaves settle back again to the bottom and the fog slowly retreats from the glass. I pour a small cup and settle in, with a familiar, dog-eared book splayed open in front of me.

This is a moment in time, I try to remind myself. The mornings seem to be the hardest, when we wake up and realize that there are weeks and months more of the world outside spiralling around us—sensationalized in print, online, in line, the day’s illness and death tolls, newly imposed quarantines, deafening emergency broadcasts to cellphones warning us all to stay inside.

I am learning to wait for the leaves to settle. I am learning to find the soft space in this air while I wait for the leaves to settle.

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Heather O'Hare  |  Contribution: 1,225

author: Heather O'Hare

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