Ennui et al in the time of plague, or, Is it real yet?

My younger son & I were discussing the words we know that don’t translate well into English. Ennui– from the French – came up, as particularly apt these days. But when I revisited its definition (a kind of existential tired boredom), I also remembered angst & weltschmerz. None of which have accurate one-word counterparts in English. But each one is a stage in my daily spiral dance, during this time of plague.

My three-year-old grandson has the best reaction to it all that I’ve found. Talking with his parents (my elder son & my daughter-in-law), he asked about zombies & monsters. His folks explained that such things weren’t real.

What is real, he replied? It’s what you can feel, and touch, my son & DIL answered.  Since then, he has been asking ~ Can I touch you? Is it real yet? As with most three-generational families, we’ve been careful to physically distance, even as we begin to socially interact again. No cuddling on the loveseat or in the rocker, as we read his books. No tickle hugs. So for Milo, we have entered a quasi-real state, more tangible than zombies, but less real than we once were. If he can even remember that far back…eight-plus weeks is a long time when you’re only three years old.

It’s a long time for his grandmother, as well.

I cycle through these states of being as if they were, truly, steps in a kind of emotional dance. (Not one I’m enjoying!) There’s almost always ennui, as I struggle to generate enough energy for the everyday tasks I once enjoyed. It took weeks to plant the seeds for the garden (but I did! and they’re now transplanted!). The rug is vacuumed regularly, even if that means once every couple of weeks. And laundry needs must be done – we’ve downsized our clothes to what we actually need & wear, so we can’t go days w/out laundry.

Birds still get fed, so that the late spring bonus of newbies is learning the feeders. Four fledgling starlings in a brass watering bowl vie with young red-bellied woodpeckers & a couple of tiny downies for our attention.

Sometimes there’s angst, especially as my younger son processes the lengthy ‘flu’ that one of his closest friends is suffering (one he saw just a day or two before it sent him to his bed…). Yeah Mom, it’s probably Covid he says. Or when my son & daughter-in-law discuss us all retreating back to self-quarantine in the fall, after school begins. They both teach at university, and my older grandson will begin 2nd grade. How can a mother NOT worry??

And sometimes? Weltschmerz enfolds me in its dark folds, and I struggle to maintain emotional equilibrium. I’ve retreated from most social media, tired of people who don’t believe in science, and do believe in racism. That, I’m sure, will help diffuse the darkness.

I’m developing coping strategies, some becoming routines in my new ‘normal.’ Afternoon tea these days almost always includes cookies, as I need the comfort of sugar beside the warmth of good tea. At night, I’ve come up w/a way to address my nightmares (kinda sorta…): I listen to YoYo Ma’s Songs of Comfort (also found on Facebook, w/ several selections), and write in my gratitude journal. Things I’m grateful for continue, even in this chaos of welstchmerz: the mockingbird who has learned to mimic my husband’s oxygen generator’s alarm; the two ravens who sometimes visit our feeders; my grandsons (always!). Regular phone calls from my younger son, so frighteningly far from us. And honeyed afternoon sunlight as I drink my teas in the Appalachian afternoons…

Like Milo, I still don’t feel that this is all ‘real’ yet. But if a three-year-old can learn to deal, so can his grandmother. Tea helps! Today was an Ayurvedic tea from Harney’s ~ a ‘relaxing’ blend of chai spices, without caffeine. Perfect for this time of plague. I recommend it. Sit in a chair by a window, or (better yet!) go outside. Listen to the birds. Remember big sky mind: clouds come & go. But the sky? It’s still here.

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