From One to Many

By .

Since February 2019, when I was diagnosed with a strange cancer, visible on CT, PET, and all the other alphabetized scans—but not making me outwardly ill—I have become used to staying at home, more and more. I go out for treatments at the hospital, which leave me fatigued and with a suppressed immune system, so I spend time at home, napping and having hot baths. When I have enough energy, I go out to meet friends, see a show at a museum, attend a play, read a few poems at a reading, have dinner at a restaurant with my partner. Even routine things like shopping, going to the bank, the library, the hardware store are restorative—for a while, I can feel normal in a normal, functioning world. Then fatigue, or fear, overtakes me. Sometimes, I wonder how the world can continue normally while I am ill, straying closer to the brink of death.

And then everything changes. The virus spreads like wildfire over the world: China to other parts of Asia, Europe, the US, Canada, South America, Africa. People are dying. More people are dying. Everything is cancelled, one event after another. The old “domino theory,” in a new guise. No sports, no readings, no theatre, no museums, no schools (except for online teaching). No businesses open except essentials.

Both my partner and I are in self-isolation because of the high risk from my illness  and because of our age (we both turned 75 in mid March). Already used to enjoying time at home with each other, we now sink into this new rhythm of only going out for essentials. We cuddle closer, cook meals, watch old movies. I find time to write, to clear a junk-drawer, to look through old photographs. I do my relaxation and yoga classes on Zoom, and find this actually works. Our neighbours are helpful, and we help them. My cancer treatments continue, though the hospital has greatly increased safety precautions. We call our children, our siblings, our other relatives and friends, many in the now hard-hit US. So far, everyone we call or email is well, but the anxiety is there, in ever-widening circles: our friends here who are out of work; people in shelters; people in refugee camps with tents crowded close together, no clean water or soap to wash hands. I am washing many times a day, feeling like the title character in a 1990 book on obsessive-compulsive disorder, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing by Judith L. Rapoport. But this is not a disorder; the danger is real. We listen to Justin Trudeau telling us to “Go home and stay home” and “We’ll get through this together.” Far different from being told (south of the border) that it will all be over by Easter, and get back to work.

Easter is coming, and so is Passover. Last winter, in pottery class, I made a Seder plate, not sure I would even be alive in April to use it. We did use it last year, and will again this year, as families gather at virtual Seder tables and Easter services, trying to find our way through this worldwide wilderness.

About Ellen Jaffe

Ellen S. Jaffe grew up in New York City, studied in England, and has lived in Ontario since 1979; she recently moved to Toronto from Hamilton. Her books include Water Children, Skinny-Dipping With the Muse, The Day I Saw Willie Mays and Other Poems (poetry), Feast of Lights (YA novel), and Writing Your Way: Creating a Personal Journal, a book particularly for women. She has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Crossing Lines: Poets who came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era, Poet to Poet, and Jack Layton: Art and Action. Her poems have been translated into Finnish (chapbook Syntamalauluja/Birthsongs) and into French. She has facilitated writing groups for children and adults, including seniors and people with physical and emotional challenges, and has received grants for writing and Artists in Education from the Ontario Arts Council, as well as other literary awards.

3 thoughts on “From One to Many

  1. Catherine Penny

    ???? Ellen articulation of a situation on a very personal level and cast that off to be more encompassing and compassionate was kind and gentle and may only achieved with life experiences

  2. Pingback: Written On the Body, #19: April 12, 2020 – Pandemic continued | Ellen S. Jaffe

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