If I am still and quiet I can hear spring. Bees, fat like overstuffed cigars, are humming over the shrubbery. The wind chimes are ringing lazily in a breeze that swoops over the just-cut fields and brakes quickly with the resistance of the house. Two long, yellow road scrapers roar slowly past the house like soldiers in review.
Wild mustard has sprouted up and down the road in erratic bouquets, bursts of yellow that match the pine pollen covering anything stationary. The carport is carpeted in pine cone seeds and the hydrangea bushes I never got around to pruning in the fall are covered in buds. The as-yet untouched fields are covered in sorrel and lobelia, one wide smear of dull red and pale lavender.
I am always glad for spring, always glad that once again light has overcome darkness, but this year. This year is different.
This year there is the coronavirus.
Not that much is different about my daily routine. Here in the woods I practice social distancing without trying. When I do make forays into town they are purposeful and efficient. But for missing out on the occasional lunch with a former colleague and getting over the awkwardness of being a single-person congregation to a live-streamed pastor, my life hasn’t changed much.
Except that it has. The past few days I’ve found myself with the same sensation as during the summers of my elementary school years when someone would ask me what grade I was in. Ever determined to be truthful, I never knew what to say. I was no longer in the fourth grade, but I was not yet in the fifth. I was between the two, neither one nor the other, in the middle.
My grown-up life has proven over and over that the middle is an awkward, even difficult place to be. Like when I found out I’d passed the bar exam in June, but because I had a summer job in north Georgia, couldn’t be sworn in until August. Was I a lawyer or not?
The middle is unfamiliarity in the midst of the familiar. It is extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. It is the most uncommon idea, occurrence, or thing in the midst of the common. That is where you are when you walk into Walmart and see your aunt, your neighbor, the mother of your child’s best friend and you can’t hug or shake hands or get close enough to see that she’s got that new yogurt you were thinking of trying in her buggy so you can ask her what she thinks about it. That is where you are when you know it’s right to stay home and you have absolutely stayed home, but you still can’t help feeling out of place.
There is no more a cure for the middle than there is for the coronavirus, though when the latter goes, so will the former.
I am bothered by the thought of no Easter lilies and I am so disappointed for the high school and college seniors and Olympic athletes. I am heart-broken for my loved ones in health care and, especially, for those suffering from the virus and the families of those who have died.
But I am rejoicing because it is spring. Spring when the bobwhites start calling as the sun goes down. Spring when the pine trees suddenly drop cones as I walk by just to get my attention. Spring when the same toad shows up two nights in a row at the bottom of the back steps as a reminder that neither he nor the pine tree nor the bobwhites are afraid.
To hold bother, disappointment, and heartbreak in the same embrace as joy is what it means to live in the middle. It is what it means to be human. To be alive.