• ebhowell

Ringing Phone

Late Summer’s Toll

In a recent daydream that feels more like a nightmare, I hear a ringing phone. It’s an old-fashion phone with a deep, ring-ring. The kind of phone with a stretched-out cord almost hitting the floor. The phone is located on the other side of the house, in the kitchen or in the middle of a hallway underneath the stairs. And, it won’t stop ringing.

I can’t or won’t answer it. I’m not sure why I can’t make it to the other room, so it continues to ring. And, ring.

The constant ringing is ‘what’ is happening in the world: the big P’s: pandemic, politics and pressure of daily life.

I have a ringing in my ears this summer. (And, it’s not from last night’s concert – those are not happening in this 2020 year of COVID-19.)

This summer is different, weird, unlike any other. It’s almost September and we are doing our best to be optimistic as the world considers returning to schools and workplaces this fall. Some of us have left our city dwellings to search for peace. Many retreated to recharge their minds in the woods or by the ocean - - and to be safe.

Almost Perfect Place

In July, we escaped the increasing COVID-19 cases and humid 90-degree temperatures of South Carolina and headed north to a little island off the coast of Maine. My great-grandfather built his bunker decades ago and I am fortunate to spend time here each year. It is timeless. Generations have escaped the heat, escaped the business of the city, and returned to simpler times of morning walks, gardening and watching sunsets on the porch after dinner in our little cottage.

This place is woven into my fibers. I think of it in the wintertime when I am away from the island and I’m instantly calmer.

But this summer is different.

We greet one another on the town dock in masks rather than smiles and hugs. This is not an air-kiss kind of place, so we are accustomed to social distancing. We are pretty good at standing six feet away for a conversation outside the general store. The only store on the island.

We have no guests visiting us this year as there is a mandated 14-day quarantine period for visitors. So, we are busy with chores to keep the little cottage standing and doing our work on the computer. We discover that we have created a virus-bubble just like many island friends who are hiding in their own little island pockets. There are no fundraisers for our wonderful island library or wedding parties with white tents. There is no service on Sunday mornings in the church where I was married. There are less traditions being followed, yet we are determined to make new ones. This is my safe place where we see our summer family.

Island warmth has been cooled by our current situation.

The longer we are here on the island during this weird summer, we have discovered ways to make the summer feel more like normal. We gather in smaller groups at the dock to watch the sunset, so we don’t have to intrude on someone’s COVID-clean house. We visit on porches rather than in kitchens and continue the stories we told last year. We talk about the summers before. The simpler times, before masks, social distancing and Zoom calls and all the other things we have all experienced since the virus appeared. I asked a sweet 93-year-old neighbor: Was life less complicated decades ago?

“Oh no, it was more complicated, we just like to remember the simpler things.”

And, maybe, just maybe, simpler things is all we need.

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