By Stephanie Barbé Hammer
I don’t know about you, but 2021 has been a difficult year for me so far. In January, I came to the sad conclusion that living in a beautiful but very rural place wasn’t working for me. As soon I realized this, my husband of a billion plus years got carted off to a distant hospital with a mysterious internal infection that might have killed him.
But there I was stuck in that very rural space with the covid quarantine, far away from longtime friends and family. I felt completely alone.
Except I wasn’t. My next-door neighbors leapt into action and my driveway sister, textile artist and gourmet cook Sue Waters called in every day, gave me dinner, and offered to drive me to hell and back if necessary. My writing friend, poet and memoirist Marie Hartung, showed up with her SUV, ready to take out the garbage (we have no recycling pick up here), get groceries, and listen to me vent. My daughter (who prefers not to be named) zoomed with me for four hours one day and checked in every day thereafter, despite a hectic work schedule. Friends and relatives helped and helped.
And reading helped. Reading about other people made me feel less alone in a place where days would go by without my seeing another person (other than Sue and her husband). Through reading I lived other lives; I escaped myself and joined imaginatively with other people in other places and time periods.
Recently I saw Ethan Hawke’s and John Leguizamo’s zoom production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the claustrophobia of our lives and the utter loneliness that so many of us experienced under covid really struck me. I watched the four characters struggling to connect in varying dysfunctional ways in their little isolated boxes, and I recognized my life for the past year and a half. The tragic-comical, often absurd, friendship that Estragon and Vladimir maintain seemed especially poignant and lifesaving to me. Our relationships, Beckett understood, are crucial, no matter how many times we repeat the same stories, the same jokes, and the same patterns.
Did you know that Beckett was a member of the French Resistance? That he worked as a courier and later stored weapons in his house? I didn’t know that. Waiting for Godot was written right after World War II ended and knowing that makes me see the play in a different light. It’s a play about persistence, and about the persistence of hope — perhaps silly, perhaps misguided — in seemingly impossible circumstances. Long ago a friend of mine spoke disparagingly about a term paper that talked about hope in Waiting for Godot. Now, though, I get it.
Our relationships have been similarly crucial during this time. Like Vladimir and Estragon, I’ve rushed out – masked – to greet the UPS driver. Somebody new! I felt a sense of joy watching Sue work in her garden. When I talked with friends on zoom, I repeated the same stories all the time, and continually checked and rechecked the websites for when I could get an appointment for my covid shots.
And like you, I waited. Waiting for Fauci, perhaps might be the name of the play we’re acting in. Or perhaps it’s Waiting for Biden, Waiting for Voting Rights, Waiting for the Green New Deal, or Waiting for a New America where Black Lives, Asian American Lives, Indigenous Lives, Latinx Lives and LGBTQIA Lives Matter. We wait, and… to misquote a certain Republican senator complaining about another – progressive – Democratic senator, we persist.
Reading the wonderful submissions to SR by nonfiction, fiction and poetry writers has helped me wait, too. I’ve entered so many other worlds and points of view and experiences. I feel gratitude to all those able to write during this complicated time. Sending work out to strangers is an act of courage, particularly now, so I send a big thank you out to all the submitters.
And to our readers: I am hoping you’ve had the same positive experience reading SR, particularly with the issues we’ve been publishing during the previous administration and during the Pandemic.
I am hoping that the writers of SHARK REEF have helped you feel less alone, less locked in your little box — existential, literal or both.
Enjoy and stay healthy.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out What We’re Reading!
Copyright Hammer 2021