Contract with the World

 
 

We’re all “100% in” for flattening the curve of the coronavirus. How we must do it is with “fewer faces, bigger spaces,” advises our Medical Health Officer, as we prepare for the May long weekend. This holiday weekend will be unlike the past ones which featured crowded beaches, big weddings, and huge conferences. It’s now all about space and bubbles. But, because things are going OK with the coronavirus numbers, we are getting to expand our bubbles a tiny bit, while still staying socially distanced.

Bubbles! “More bubbles, less troubles,” said Sandro Bottega when we visited his vineyard in Veneto, Bottega Spa, many years ago to taste and write about his outstanding prosecco wines and grappa. It was a heady time. We agreed that those bubbles made our troubles disappear. The word “bubble” has a different connotation now, not of an intoxicating and liberating libation but of an encapsulated and limiting confinement, yet the formula still works.

In a global pandemic, keeping within our bubbles is our contract with the world, our country, our province, our community and our families. Every night, people step outside to applaud and bang pots for seven o’clock tributes to essential services workers, but otherwise mostly stay home, staying safe and being kind. Following these directions is our side of the contract. We do sometimes raise glasses of prosecco across balconies and patios and gardens, but always keep two or three metres of separation.

I’ve been re-reading Jane Rule’s Contract with the World recently: partly because it’s told from the perspective of six characters, and I’m trying to write something like that; partly because it’s a good novel about the protests, upheaval and sexual politics of Vancouver in the 1970’s. That was a very different time, a freer time, yet the book still contains some relevant messages. At the end of the novel one character says, “All things fall and are built again,” and another observes that their lives “will change in ways she couldn’t predict.”

While reading, I’m breathing in the scent of a little bouquet of lily-of-the valley that a friend brought to me. The fragrance of this flower hints at spring and sweetness and everything that is green and growing. Lily-of-the-valley is the birth month flower of May, which is usually a month of many rituals and celebrations. But this year is different, and it is the strangest May long weekend I’ve experienced. There will be no May Day festivals, no parades, no maypole dancing, not much travel to holiday cottages, only distanced Mother’s Day visits and small weddings. And yet I can’t complain, knowing that a small number of us are a lot luckier than a great many of us on this planet right now.

The lily-of-the-valley symbolizes unity, humility, good fortune, and the return of happiness. Good things to think about. We’re paying attention to what these days are telling us. In her poem, The Lily, Mary Oliver writes that the lily may be “saying in lily language/ some small words/ we can’t hear.” I listen closely, trying to hear the flowers’ small words. I think they are probably saying “Stay home, stay in your bubble, and be kind.”

And maybe they’re also whispering, “Have a little glass of prosecco to celebrate the holiday weekend.”

Happy Victoria Day!

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