Reflections on Being Still: Quarantine Life

On March 12th, two enormous events happened in my life. 1) In the early morning I decided to close my business and quarantine in my little Hatfield home. 2) In the early evening my very healthy and happy nephew arrived in the world.

Unlike the nondescript sunny August morning that my niece entered the world two years ago, this March Thursday will be far more etched in everyone’s minds. As most days of March of 2020 will be remembered globally.

To say that I went silent is not entirely true, as those closest to me have been texting or calling almost nonstop. But for weeks I went entirely still. I went to my office that first Sunday and freed all my plants from my soon to be human-less office. I turned my already very leafy home into a bit of a greenhouse and I sat down on the couch.

I couldn’t tell you what I did in March. I remember almost nothing. I received baby pictures via text messages of my little nephew coming home and meeting my niece. I received text messages about his first visit to the doctor. I talked on the phone with my sister about her birth experience. I wept on the phone with my mother about not being able to come over and meet the baby. I placed massive grocery orders, counted toilet paper rolls and while everyone fretted about whether or not to shut down their businesses—I ordered larger planters, potting soil and peat moss and prepared to hunker down indefinitely.

These days my patients are my plants. My Christmas cactuses both bloomed again filling the house with magenta and pale pink blooms. My geranium has put off its white blooms on the regular. New buds bursting forth as the old ones shrivel. My peace lily adores the living room light and has nearly doubled in size since quarantining. And my African violet after a few months protest has returned with its velvety purple flowers.

I touch people for a living. That is the phrase that keeps echoing in my head lately. I smell people for a living. I look at people for a living. Some people may be appalled at those statements, but they obviously have not worked with me. They obviously have not worked with a curious and deliberate acupuncturist. Or at least one that is open about what they are doing. We use the pulse and the tongue as guides, but there is so much more information everywhere else on the body.

In one patient appointment I may touch a person’s body 40 times, 100, or more. Sometimes I will sit with a person who is on the brink and massage their belly while the needles work or hold their skull and do a bit of energy work. Sometimes I will spend a whole appointment palpating and needling over and over and over again for forty minutes.

That work. My work. Is inconceivable to me now.

I spend my time in quarantine thinking there is no way to do the work I do without touch, without being able to smell the nuance of smells on one person’s body, to feel the difference in temperature, whether there is dampness, stickiness, bumpiness of the skin. I often mistakenly use the phrase listen to the pulse instead of feel it. And if one watched me closely you would see I actually turn my head to put my dominant ear in the direction of the hand. That is how we gather information. That is how linked the senses are in this bizarre and wonderful work.

To say that I miss my patients is a profound understatement. I miss their stories and their musings and their wonderful humanness. But as a mechanic, I also miss their machines. Their bodies in need of tune-ups and alignment adjustments. I miss the confusion of conflicting information, when the body very clearly tells me two opposing facts. I miss my patients laughing at me as I go stock-still fully stumped and wrestle through all the details yet again in my mind to find a step. That first step.

This stillness feels like that full confusion; tons of competing and conflicting information coming at us from all over the globe. All of it flying in the face of our desire for connection, touch, simplicity, the usual. But none of us are capable of a first step. None of us is even really safe to take a first step. So I stay still. I watch spring coming and water my plants and watch movies with people living normal lives. It is okay to be fully still and not know what is coming next. It is okay to exist in the stillness indefinitely and wait for the confusion to lift. It is okay to define in what ways you are being still and in what ways you are moving forward. But by all means, right now, do not fear the stillness. It is the one of the few things worthy of complete trust.

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