Generally, when I consider the stresses of everyday life, I think of matters that put a person on edge; things that cause noticeable changes in one’s frame of mind. I think of those changes easily traceable to mental burdens which mental health experts say can be quieted deliberately if one employs techniques like meditation. In other words, I think of stress as something quite easy to manage and, with adequate effort, eliminate.
But today I worry that stress may be less obvious and, therefore, not so easily controlled or contained. This morning, I envision stress like an invisible cloud of carbon monoxide. He is the benign visitor who smiles sweetly as he sucks the life-giving oxygen out of the air, gently causing his victims to perish in a soft, silent, secret suffocation. Stress pads about in thick socks, muffling the sounds of assassination as he hands his victim a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or plays soft jazz. Sounds dissolve softly into the distance as the organs shut down in preparation for their final sleep.
It’s hard to fight this invisible killer, this murderer who slips one end of a hose over the tailpipe of a car parked in the neighbor’s driveway, placing the other inside the tightly-sealed room where one rests after a long day of labor and worry. But there are clues that warn of deadly efforts of stress. Lethargy. A sensation of being on edge; that feeling that I always equate with stress. A sense of dread and frailty and ineptitude. A powerful longing for sleep, as if sleep were a tranquilizing injection capable of exchanging pain for dull emptiness.
We never realize how fragile we are until irreplaceable pieces of our psyches break into a million pieces. Stress can crush the finest crystal, turning it into tiny slivers of sharp memories that draw blood even before they puncture our lives, as they approach the skin. We are, after all, nothing more than our own memories, histories woven like spun glass into delicate shapes that time shatters as it delivers stress by the minute.
How did a fleeting thought turn into a dark cloud? That is what stress—even weak wisps of it that seem innocuous and benign—can do, I guess.
Last night’s meal consisted of enormous ribeye steaks, baked potatoes, and Greek salads, washed down with wine. I overcooked the steak by a little; by the time the meat rested for a bit, though, it was overcooked by a little more. Still, it was more than tolerable. It was a nice meal, one both a rarity and a lovely treat. The grill needs cleaning today, of course. But it needs new grates even more than it needs cleaning. I think I’ll search out replacements online; somewhere, I suspect I have the literature for the Char-Broil grill that might even tell me the part numbers I’ll need. And, while I’m at it, perhaps a grill cover will find its way into my online shopping cart. Or maybe not. So often, I fail to finish what I start; often, it’s because I find the costs offensively high. Later, I realize my options are limited; either do without or pay the going rate. Life is like that, too. Pay the cost of living it the way I want or scrape by in semi-poverty.
We had plans to leave town this week. All week. But those plans changed, though we cannot recall exactly why. Maybe it had to do with my IC’s hoped-for house sale. Maybe it was COVID. Maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, it robbed us of a five to seven days of being away from the Village. We may still get a way for a day or two, but that’s not the refreshment I feel I want and need. I may need a week or two. Or a month or two. Time unavailable to the normal demands of being present. But there’s so much more to do. I can feel my nerves fray and my joints creak and my bones form cracks on the surface. I need the tender embrace of isolation and the distance of being comforted in welcoming, loving arms. Ambiguities abound. I need sleep that lasts for days, but I need the productivity of sleepless days and weeks and even months. Ach!
I believe COVID may be the visible expression of the death throes of humankind. It may be a long, painful, death—one that plays out over the course of a generation or two—but I would not be surprised to learn, looking back fifty years from now, that 2020 was the trigger for the collapse of human control of the planet. I can’t seem to climb out of this well. The walls are slick with wet moss that grows less able to hold onto the hand’s grip with every attempt to clamor out. The light above is dimming.