My Altar

A moment of setting up meaningful mementos in our home reminded me that there's power in looking back and reconnecting to our humanity.

By New Africa/ Shutterstock
By New Africa/ Shutterstock

Last week, when I began to realize the enormity of what was happening to us, I started keeping a loosely attended-to journal to record my thoughts and observations. I wanted to not forget this time. The sharing of my journal can perhaps come later when this is behind us.

I have been capturing epiphanies. Today I had a special one.

I was taking my every-other-daily self-care walk and decided to veer a bit off the usual path around my apartment building. I have been adding more pieces to my outfit to comply with recent recommendations. Today I added a colorful cotton plaid scarf to wear as a bandana, not to serve as a mask (which we know is not protective), but to remind me not to touch my face. I haven’t used this scarf for years. It sits in a drawer with a bunch of other similar ones because it has sentimental value. I used to use them when hiking years ago.

As I marched along, dodging few other walkers (asking myself, why am I always the one to move off the sidewalk?), I realized I had lost my bandana! I was hoping to continue on my new route when I was faced with an unanticipated question. Should I retrace my steps to search for my bandana, or brush it off because I have more at home? I quickly remembered that I had observed several days before how important it is to conserve and preserve. Around I turned, and half a mile later I found it along the edge of the sidewalk! Very quickly this became a talisman of hope and redemption. I reclaimed something that had more meaning than I ever imagined. 

As I continued walking, I remembered that several days ago, while preparing a space for a workout area, I came across a brass plaque containing the eulogy I had written for my mother, years ago. The description of her washed warmly over me. I had just told my daughters that we should not be fearful; that we come from good Russian stock. Their grandmother came through Ellis Island with far more uncertainty, and look at where we are now. At that moment I knew we could all draw strength from her example, especially me as the matriarch of my family. I have photos of my children all over, for obvious reasons. This moment was different. I took the plaque and a framed photo of my mother and set it up on a shelf where I can see it every day. I added another framed photo of me and my dearest soulmate, Punam Mather, who works with me on all our good deeds. I decided that I was going to add my plaid scarf to the collection when it occurred to me — I am creating an altar. A place to worship precious things that will grow daily.

Throughout the ages people have relied on faith, whatever that may be, to carry them through. We create symbols and images to represent the hope that human beings have for meaningful, good lives. I am no different from the creators of hieroglyphics and cave drawings and Renaissance masters and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I am a human being reconnecting to my humanity.

The day that artificial intelligence can do that… is the day we have to fear. This virus is a wimp.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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