Today, Sunday the 31st of May, is the next-to-last day of lockdown. It has been two and a half months. Day after tomorrow restaurants and cafés open; today the church bells chimed their hearts out as the first Mass in more than 75 days was celebrated.

Calendar March April May 2020 Template

I have a friend who hasn’t been out in two and a half months except two or three times to the supermarket. I, of course, have been in and out all along, and, except for my morning and afternoon visits to the cafés to have a coffee and chat, my life hasn’t changed that much. But nothing felt the same all this time. The streets were quiet, people wore masks (they still do) and said ‘hello’ from afar (they are getting a bit closer, but still keeping distance). No kisses even on one cheek, much less on both which is the custom… It was as if everything had gone into stand-still… waiting, holding its breath.

Today, as I walked past my friend’s house I rang the bell and she invited me in for a coffee… just like before. We sat at her kitchen table, chatted and sipped our cups of coffee. Day after tomorrow we will be going to the café to join the coffee group once more.

As I step outside  and turn to walk home, I stop for a moment and listen to the church bells still chiming away. Tears come to my eyes: ‘This is what it must have been like the day WWII ended and the bells could finally chime again,’ I think as I strike out for home.


At home the Magnolia awaits me: yes, Magnolia, with a capital M. You see, there is a magnolia tree right up the avenue from me and when I walk that way with Salomé and the tree is flowering, I can smell it from a block away. Now it is flowering, and day before yesterday, when I walked past the dark, shady tree, I saw the Magnolia: it was a imagesMBEBL073bud but it had already lost its protective rust covering and was all white, ready to burst open. It was on a low branch… the temptation was too much. I clipped it and smuggled it back home with me: what a delight! I would smell its sweet perfume as long as it lasted.

Of course, this is not the first time I have absconded with one of my neighbor’s magnolia blossoms but, somehow, lockdown has created a heightened state of consciousness and, suddenly, my Magnolia became a living thing, a newcomer to my small apartment.

IMG_20200530_094043When I got home, I trimmed off the extra leaves so as to give her more power, filled a small glass vase with fresh water and placed her gently on the dining table in her new home. Throughout the afternoon, the pregnant bud grew plumper to the point of bursting. The perfume was still faint, barely discernable. When I went to bed, I anticipated the delight that awaited me in the morning with the perfume, but I never expected the marvel that was to fill my life for two whole days.

At 9 a.m. I noticed the bud had begun to open and the room was filled with the sweetest, most delicate perfume. I took a picture, topped up the water in the vase, said ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’ to Magnolia, and went about my morning.

When I came home an hour later from my walk, the delicious scent greeted me the IMG_20200530_103512moment I opened the door. I went to see how Magnolia was doing and noticed progress. The wonder of the miracle of life filled me and I decided to follow the unfolding of this miracle throughout the day. Half an hour later, Magnolia looked like this:

I can’t even begin to describe the perfume that was wafting out of the unfurling bloom and filling the apartment. It would be what joy and love and tenderness all combined would smell like if they were a perfume.

Our love affair was on; there was no avoiding her allure and my curiousness as to what was thereof to unfold (literally). I longed to have a video recorder that could record for hours and then be speeded up so I could see her move IMG_20200530_104937myself for –no matter how I tried to make myself patient and stare at her moment after moment- I could not capture even one slight pulse of a movement, and yet, not even 90 minutes later she had bloomed.IMG_20200530_121825

How did she move ever so slightly, ever so cautiously that my eye could not capture even the slightest twitch? All day long I observed her, breathing in her heavenly perfume and thanking the heavens I had been so bold as to steal her for my own.

And then, around five o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun began its descent in the western sky, something even more miraculous happened: she began closing her petals slowly around her center once more. By five thirty she was halfway closed, and –although she never got back to IMG_20200530_204800being a bud again, by evening, there was no doubt she had gone to beddy-bye.

She and I slept all night. The following morning, I arose to the sweet, blessed scent of Magnolia, at around 7:30. The day IMG_20200530_184031promised to bring in the summer full on, and be hot and sunny and even vaporous. But in spite of its brightness and warmth, Miss Magnolia didn’t budge until around 9 a.m.

In spite of being a ‘sleeper’, she hurried to start her big day and was more than half-way open twenty-six IMG_20200531_093643minutes later with her yellow and red stamen filaments beginning already to fall.

Two hours later, she had finished her job and by evening she was ready and willing to go to sleep, having done a hard day’s work.IMG_20200531_101950

My house continues smelling of sweet magnolia blooms, but I feel sad, knowing that the following day, although she will open again, her petals will begin to brown and her perfume to smell a bit stale and soon, too very soon I will be obliged to consecrate her once more to the ground via compost.


So summer comes, the magnolia blossom does what a blossom is destined to do and the Lockdown comes to an end slowly…

I can only wonder what the world will bring tomorrow.

2020: THE YEAR OF CLEAR VISION (a story)

One morning towards the end of the Great Pandemic of 2020, Lily suddenly looked out of the window, across the red tile roofs of the town, through the greenness of the trees and up into the cloud dotted sky and, for the first time in many, many years asked herself, or the Universe, or whatever, a question that came, not from her mind, but from somewhere deep inside her chest:

-Why are we here? Why is all this here?

And she meant, of course, herself and all the animals and plants and trees and clouds and bodies of water or streams and the insects, the mites, the bacteria and viruses. What for?

Immediately her mind leapt into action and began coming up with all the answers that had been registered there over time for Lily was not a dumb or unlearned person… but not one answer stuck.

-No –said Lily to her mind- I mean all this: the birds and the trees and the flowers and the viruses and the angels and the mites in our mattresses… and us humans and our dogs… Why are we here? Why is all this here? –it came from her gut, the question, and it produced not a little unease.

She knew it was an important question and also one that humanity has been trying to answer for most of its existence. She also knew that no answer had yet made her think oh… yeah: that’s it, and feel satisfied enough to go on with her life.

She had never believed all of religion’s fairy tales and horror stories of a Loving but Just God-Daddy who would reward the good and punish the evil, and the New-Age reasoning of being here to Create Consciousness –which at one time had sounded pretty good- had long since seemed full of holes: What for? was the obvious next question… and that was the problem: To every answer possible, there was always the obvious next question and it was always… What for?

Then she wondered: Will I find out when I die? And what damn good will it do me then? The Cosmic Joke… Then she could reincarnate… but What for? What for if you can’t remember the previous life and all the lessons learned then or what crimes you are being punished for and what karma you are cleaning… What for???

Could it be that there was no reason for all this beauty or all this ugliness? What if there was no FOR…

Einstein had said –or so she had read- that the most important question we must ask is: Is this a friendly Universe…? ‘He probably meant God when he said Universe- but couldn’t say so because God has gotten such a lousy reputation these days’ she thought. She too preferred ‘Universe’, it had fewer connotations, it was asexual and certainly had no overtones of daddiness. Universe was something impersonal. When she wanted something she always left it to the Universe and everything had usually gone her way in the long run.

Man’s Search for Meaning (and Women’s, Lily added in her usual feminist fashion), came to mind. She went over to her desk, opened the computer and googled Viktor Frankl. The book popped up. She had read it a long time ago, during her ‘searching’ period which had taken up all of middle life from 25 to 60, but the book had gotten lost in one of so many house moves.

She browsed down the offerings, all Kindle and each one a bit more expensive than the previous. There were four different publications, followed –strangely- by a book of recipes for dishes using cherries… She wondered what the connection was: the Universe is just a bowl of cherries? Sixteen million copies sold! Of Frankl’s book, not the cherry recipes.

‘Maybe I wouldn’t be searching for meaning if my books had sold 16 million copies,’ Lily pondered. ‘And supposing the answer to What for? is Just because…?’ she went on to consider.

Lily closed the computer, returned to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee; from the cupboard she extracted a dietetic cookie, and returned to her contemplation from the window.

It was the 53rd day of the Pandemic Lockdown and existence had become a very private and a very simple matter. Living alone, as she did, in a very small apartment, in a small town, far from family and with only a few select friends, her life had never been very complicated in these later years, but the Lockdown had definitely over-simplified it to almost nunhood.

Silence had never bothered her –she was not a listener of music and hated having a background anything- but with Lockdown it had become, what she thought of as, a Very Loud Silence. Twenty-four hours after the Confinement had begun, she had discovered that there was a ringing in her ears she had never noticed before. She looked it up on internet: tintinitis… no idea where it comes from and no cure. So much for that. As soon as traffic picked up again, and kids began riding their motor-scooters with the exhausts open and neighbors started conversing window to window the outdoor noise would probably din the ringing and she could forget about it.

But again… Why is all this here? What for? After all, she knew that cars and trucks and guns and department stores and hospitals and schools were here because ‘Man’ (that one-sexed, patriarchal species) had made them. But why was LIFE in all its manifestations here?

Lily thought back on her little life (so small, so meaningless) –since Lockdown there had been plenty of time to go over the years-. It had been a lifetime of searching… she thought, and what for? Oh, yes… Of course… Life had seemed unlivable… from the tender age of 19, she had suddenly understood that she understood nothing, that she felt she was losing it (whatever it was), and that she needed someone or something to give her an answer and to plot a path.

From that age on, she had searched. The first Someone was God, through the Catholic Religion. Not having been brought up in any belief, she went through the whole enchilada: catechism, baptism, confirmation and first communion… all in one and Life had Meaning, which was to Love God and Do Good. Lily found she wasn’t very good at either, especially  the doing good, since she met the man who was to be her husband shortly after becoming Catholic and ‘Sex raised its Ugly Head’ as her grandmother so liked saying.

At 20 she had dropped God, married The Man and wound up with two small children by the time she was 25. From there, the development of a freaking frustration that drove her up the walls was just a hop, skip and crying fit away.

The next remedy to existential anguish was Freud and the psychoanalytical couch. She was told that the problem was a Father Complex and a great amount of Penis Envy (something she found hard to ‘swallow’ both from the analyst and from The Man), but at least the couch was a first step towards a fascination with the Psyche, the Mind, the Noodle-de-Doodle and a certain degree of understanding as to how we function, if not -yet- the WHY.

Somehow, Freud managed to cement Lily to The Man long enough for the kids to marry before the final downward plunge leading to divorce. Although the Psyche had been fascinating, it had not been enough to keep her mind on the straight and narrow, so in her late 50’s she had joined God and Freud in a frenzied Spiritual New Age search that had ended at age 60 when she had finally settled into some kind of contentment and moved in with a small female dog for a companion. Since then Life had been good -although never understandable- and she had basically stopped asking THE QUESTION.

But the year 2020 –the year of CLEAR VISION as Lily had jokingly foretold- had been turned upside down with the Pandemic. And the Pandemic, with the following necessary Lockdown, had suddenly brought up the froth that lay quietly waiting beneath life’s contentment and there, on this morning of the 53rd day of Deafening Silence, the unanswerable question had bubbled up and burst out upsetting everything but the stolid noiselessness.

‘What in the hell for?’ Lily repeated, this time out loud. ‘I mean… Look at us! As a species we are a disaster: greedy, relentless, murdering, selfish, unfeeling, insensitive, egotistical… arghhhh, Beings… Why? What in the hell for?’

Lily was not happy at having been obliged to look again so closely at her own species, at her own self as she had been over the last 53 days. There were six days of Lockdown to go and then… What?

Was it to be Everyone back to as before? What for? What does it all mean? If we’re good, if we’re bad, if we’re generous, if we steal… Us and all this incredibly awe-inspiring, unbelievably beautiful world that surrounds us… WHY IS ALL THIS HERE… WHAT FOR?

Suddenly she looked at the trees as if she had never seen a tree before, and heard a bird chirping as if it were the only sound on Earth and felt the loving caress of the breeze that was lilting off the mountains … and tears began streaming down her face as she softly, oh so very softly… smiled.