I can hear Auld Lang Syne playing in the apartment next door. My zip code is in Los Angeles, but the walls in this building are New York thin. Anyone who’s ever lived lived there knows exactly what I’m talking about. On quiet nights, I can hear my downstairs neighbor snore, despite his sleep apnea machine. At the moment, though, it’s that beautiful, Scottish melody that’s seeping through from next door, specifically, the rendition from the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” that ol’ Frank Capra flick that’s nearly as iconic as the song itself. It feels strangely apt, and strangely sad, for here in April, we are already saying adieu to “times gone by,” amidst this strange spring that feels like a winter.
It’s not all sad, of course. Mother Nature has rewarded us with endangered turtles hatching on empty beaches, pollution rates plummeting, and even more verifiably for us laymans, clear skies. The stars were out tonight, brilliant against the inky blackness. Anyone who’s ever lived here can tell you how rare that is; one of the very reasons places like Joshua Tree are so popular, aside from the mushroom trips, of course, is the clarity of the vast desert sky.
We lowly humans are also showing up in beautiful ways. We’re helping each other pay for groceries, raising money and donating food, working together to make millions of masks. One of my favorite recent reports highlights the launch of a hotline for isolated seniors to call and listen to pre-recorded jokes and stories, started by volunteer teens.
We’ve also been rewarded with vulnerability. Any fronts we may have been carrying have been crumbling; it’s as if a side effect of the stress is that it behaves as a strong exfoliant to our souls. Many of the layers we counted on to tell the world “who we are” have been sloughed aside to reveal a softer, brighter, more tender truth: we are all a little scared, a little worried, a little susceptible to weakness. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this is living in the (not-too-distant) past of “before.” But we are also learning that these sensitivities of both body and spirit may actually turn out to be our greatest strength. We are beginning to learn what’s possible.
Perhaps out of a longing for connection with those whom we are now distanced or simply as a way to hang on to our sanity, we’ve exposed our soft underbellies more now that ever in our lifetime. We’ve reached out to friends and “old acquaintances”, we’ve shared our fears in quiet whispers and public posts. And by doing so, we’ve given permission for others to do the same. Which in turn makes this level of openness less passé, less novel, and what a breathtaking new landscape it could be.
We’re also giving more space to grief. Shifting its colors more rapidly than a caffeinated chameleon, Grief is one of those unpredictable creatures that surprises even the most self-aware. We all process it differently. For some, it spurs creation and song, for others, hiding under a quilt and confirming “yes, I’m still watching.” Neither is better or worse, more or less evolved. As David Kessler pointed out in a recent interview, it’s never the loss of something that causes friction or divorce, it’s our judgement of each other’s grief about it. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this new terrain. It’s enough that we allow ourselves and each other to experience it.
At the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” George Bailey has learned the important lessons of friendship, community, and that’s right, vulnerability. In fact, it completely turns his world upside down in the most, well, wonderful way. Out of crisis came the awakening. Suddenly it seems like the perfect viewing choice for this particular April. Ah, there’s the bell- I can hear it through my walls, and perhaps, on a wider scale as well. Attaboy, Clarence.