Suspended in the unknown

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This past winter, I felt my energies waning, my interests dulled. It was an effort to call friends. Going out for a walk seemed a chore. Reading headlines, I felt numb. Personal contact had shrunk to our household of two, and intermittent hugless visits with our closest neighbours, good friends who are in our ‘bubble’.

Of course, I am incredibly lucky: my hubby and I are in good health and grateful for having received our first vaccination dose; we get to hug one another several times a day; Zoom allows regular contact with family and friends; and even the government-imposed curfew has blessed us with the calm of traffic-free, quiet nights.

Still, the long months of the pandemic have eroded my natural energetic drive, left me with a kind of ‘Covid inertia’. Voicing these thoughts with some friends, I was surprised to learn that they too felt flattened, as if they were languishing. As always, I’m not alone. We feel suspended between opposite cliff edges of an abyss: the familiar past of ‘pre-Covid’ on one side; the uncertain future of ‘post-Covid’ on the other. Here we are, hanging in the unknown.

And then another image surfaces—a memory—and won’t let go. A few years ago on a trip to the West Coast, a friend and I were walking beside the ocean. Cliffs jutted over the beach. Looking up, we saw an object hovering in the blue sky over the cliffs. Too far away to see exactly what it was, we speculated. Bird? Kite? The thing was practically motionless, except for a gentle swaying on an invisible tightrope of air. We stood watching for a good ten minutes then finally decided it must be a kite, even though no kite-handler was in sight. No bird could stay that still for that long. Just at that moment, the ‘kite’ rose in the air, wings flared wide, and a hawk banked towards us before soaring away.

Image courtesy Jen Kindell from Pixabay

This memory consoles and challenges me. What if I held these moments of inertia differently? What if they were opportunities to experience the unknown more fully, get curious about it—and perhaps discover something timeless and beautiful?

Browsing through poetry books, I come across Mary Oliver’s poem Knife. While the hawk in her poem Knife doesn’t hover, the poet’s openness, “without a pinch of hope/ or a single unfulfilled desire” reveals wonder in the moment glowing through the continuity of time.


just now
moved through my heart
like the thinnest of blades
as that red-tail pumped
once with its great wings
and flew above the gray, cracked
rock wall.
It wasn’t
about the bird, it was
something about the way
stone stays
mute and put, whatever
goes flashing by.
when I sit like this, quiet,
all the dreams of my blood
and all outrageous divisions of time
seem ready to leave,
to slide out of me.
Then, I imagine, I would never move.
By now
the hawk has flown five miles
at least,
dazzling whoever else has happened
to look up.
I was dazzled. But that
wasn’t the knife.
It was the sheer, dense wall
of blind stone
without a pinch of hope
or a single unfulfilled desire
sponging up and reflecting,
so brilliantly,
as it has for centuries,
the sun’s fire.

~ Mary Oliver



  1. Janice

    May 31, 2021

    Mary Lou I love how you weave together your inertia (which I share), your memory of that hawk hovering, and then this poem which could have been written just for this moment. Certainly gives me cause to reflect and look for opportunities to see my own inertia . thank you, love Jan

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