Finding Life’s Extras Amid the Chaos

Last Sunday, I prepared a new post for this blog about the chaos of our impetuous fall season. There seemed to be a unique opportunity for improvement in every direction you may look across our garden, and I had let myself get carried away with the projects. Even my husband, the declared non-gardener of the family, is becoming a declared gardener despite his identity crisis and has suggested several well-received projects.

There were so many items on our ToDo list that we had separated them between us and further divided them by the days remaining before frost. With all this work ahead, there was hardly time to feel sorry for ourselves or to lament a runny nose and scratchy throat. 

We had sat down for coffee Monday morning as usual when he admitted the night had been miserable. He left for the kitchen and took a covid test. Ten minutes later, he blandly reported, “It’s positive.” My world stopped ever so gently.

Wearing masks, we passively discussed what to do next. It seemed inevitable that I was already infected, but what are a married couple living in a small cottage to do? We weren’t sure of the correct answer. Since he was feeling miserable and we were still hoping I was a maybe, he quarantined himself into the bedroom, leaving me isolated – with my thoughts and the dogs.

I wrote a note that morning to my journal: Mike tested positive this morning for covid. I blamed his runny nose and cough since yesterday on allergies. The weather app showed pollen was high, and that was enough for me. He calmly announced, “it’s positive,” from the kitchen before we had finished our coffee, and I’ve been in a mix of shock and denial since. His symptoms are mild so far, thankfully. Compared to what previous covid patients have suffered, we can’t complain. Except, I was determined we would survive this pandemic without getting covid. The fury I feel is over the agony of not reaching my goal as much as for having covid. Now that it’s here, inside the haven of our four walls, you begin to accept it is part of our life, and I rather hate that resignation.

That night, I made a bed on the sofa with Bentley at my feet and Issy lying as close to the bedroom door as he could be. We listened to my husband cough through the night as the clocks ticked off the hours at their individually calculated correct time of day. We nap separately and talk by phone, sometimes by text. I hear his voice from the bedroom and through my phone simultaneously, and we have our meals together in different rooms.

Life takes on a different perspective when traveling in slow motion. There’s time to notice things there was no time for earlier, such as the little books on the console table in the hall bath. I particularly love overly small books, which are often old as well, and it’s been years since I had taken the time to notice these three.

One particular book was just twenty-five pages long, titled “Life’s Extra’s” by Archibald Rutledge. The book begins with Mr. Rutledge riding with a friend on the train. “I said something inane about the prosperity of the country, the glowing future of the live-stock industry, and so forth,” Mr. Rutledge recalls. His friend replied, “Look at those little daisies. Cattle somehow can’t thrill me. There’s more hope for humanity in a wild flower than in tons of beef.”

Two spaces separate each sentence rather than the customary one space used today. There’s no table of contents or even chapters. A previous owner of this little book made short but decisive marks underneath every few words; ‘inane,’ only the ‘pe’ of prosperity, and the ‘isi’ of daisies. The markings go on through every page with a handwritten note on the front page, “Thank God for books as meals.”

“Long after he left me,” Rutledge continues, “I kept thinking of what he had said, wondering just what he had meant. His idea, of course, was that a wild flower is one of life’s extras, one of those things that we do not have to have but which we enjoy all the more for that very reason.” Rutledge describes things that are among the bare necessities of life: “Sunlight, air, water, food, shelter” – and the extras in his life: “moonlight and starlight, music, the perfumes, and flowers.”

I begin to think of the extras in my life; the hummingbird that visits our garden, a warm breeze on my face, the sound of a gentle rain or of rolling thunder in the distance, a bird’s song, fog over the lake, snow atop the mountains, and these little books that make me smile.

I’ve continued to test negative, possibly because I received my Omicron booster about a week earlier than he did, which saved me. Or I could be like my mother, who never got covid even when everyone else in the house did. For now, we’re still in isolation, and I’m still dreaming about my garden projects, although there’s less urgency now that I realize none of my life’s extras are on that ToDo list.